THE PATERNITY AFFAIR
Robyn Donald

The only man Kate had ever loved was standing right beside her. Her heart leapt, as it always had, yet she had dreaded such a reunion, and the thought of Patric meeting her six-year-old son. While Kate had dreamed of them together as a family she knew too well that one excruciating untold truth, a truth she could never tell Patric, would always keep them apart. Yet here he was, after seven years, and despite everything, in some small part of her, hope, foolish hope, sprang eternal!

CHAPTER ONE OH, LORD, Kate Brown prayed silently. Oh, Lord, Oh, Lord, Oh, Lord, let this be over soon. Please. Beside her, her son let out an ecstatic yelp as the roller-coaster carriage swayed and dived, suspending them upside down for heart- shattering moments. She forced her eyelids to open infinitesimally. While the world catapulted hideously around them she barked, 'Put your hands back on that bar! Now!' 'Oh, Mummy,' Nick protested, but obeyed. Clamping her eyes shut again as the carriage went into another stomach-dropping spin, Kate thought wildly that his hands were long and tanned with tapered fingers—just like hers. In fact he looked so much like her that people often did a double take. Only his knuckles weren't white on the bar, and he didn't feel sick—his wide grin told her just how much he was enjoying himself. Certainly he hadn't got his fearlessness—or whatever had made him wheedle until he finally got her onto the Triple-Loop Corkscrew Roller-Coaster—from her. That rash courage could have come from her parents, but she had no idea who'd bequeathed him his coaxing charm. Not his father, she thought with a shudder. Remembering Nick's father was the worst thing to do when her stomach was already stressed to its maximum. With the effortless ease of almost seven years' practice, she switched her mind into another channel, relaxing as the carriage steadied and slid quietly to a halt. Thank heaven it was over. But when they were once more standing on solid ground Nick, still fizzing, urged, 'Can we go again? Mummy, can we do it again? That was awesome.'

And you'll like it much better if we go again now 'cause you'll know what's going to happen.' Patric Sutherland's voice was deadly. in the faint. stopped her brain. 'Do you want to kill me?' He grinned. evocative scent of male.' Kate said. 'If you want a swim before dinner we have to go now. and anyway. 'You liked it really. 'Hello. Dimly she heard Nick's startled exclamation. Sea World is just about ready to close.grey eyes—that swept her in a rapid.' 'Once was quite enough. Turning. she tried to pull herself away. holding her upright for a moment before settling her against a big. long asleep. 'She'll be all right soon—she's just had a shock. 'Lean on me. Very quietly Patric said.Never a truer word. all right. to the child at her side. frightening scrutiny. then moved. blue-green eyes sparkling. and she ruffled his black hair. Kate.' . As she withdrew her hand some atavistic sense. Enveloped in warmth.' Kate laughed down at him. 'Well. but said in a lordly tone.' He threw her a disappointed glance. Panic clutched her throat. Kate. Her deflated lungs filled on a gasping breath. rock-solid body. It gets dark early here. set alarm bells clanging through her system. she heard Patric say coolly.' Kate wrenched herself back from the longed-for oblivion of unconsciousness. Kate stared at him. I bet you did. steering him towards the exit. inevitably. He beamed back. she met eyes—frigid iron. and then strong hands gripped her. but the arms around her remained unyielding.

' But Nick said. 'He's all right. Far too aware of the man who imprisoned her.'Nick. and when they lifted his gaze was opaque and unreadable. Unfortunately a quick glance told her otherwise.' she said. tall for a boy not yet six. the long fingers deliberate and uncompromising. Patric released her. heavy lashes masked them. his black hair with its red highlights setting off the blue-green eyes he shared with her. 'Then why does he have to hold you up?' 'He doesn't any longer. 'I must have been out in the sun too long.' 'I told you to wear your hat. . of course. unexpected meeting. his closeness. then added anxiously. because I'm perfectly able to stand up by myself. devastating her. seared through her. she croaked. but kept one hand beneath her elbow. and a little pale beneath his golden skin. 'Mummy?' with a betraying quiver. Before she had time to react to the blaze of raw fury in his eyes. His touch. pulling back.' She drew in a deep breath. Opening her eyes and blinking.' she muttered desperately. Kate looked down at her son. 'Are you all right now?' 'Yes. I have to.' Nick pointed out.get out of here! The grimness in Patric's face might have been shock at this unwanted. stiffening herself against the dangerous haven of those arms.

' Kate knew that look.' 'All right. waiting until she was seated before-signalling a waitress with a glance. She squeezed and he squeezed back. but she'd still find herself sitting in the coolness of a tea room drinking something.' he said brusquely.' she replied. The last newspaper article she'd read about him said that he also had a house in Aspen. She could object. the alarm in his face fading. and the seven or so years since she'd last seen him had chiselled more harshly a face already formidable at twenty. The few minutes it took to reach the cafe were barely enough to reinforce Kate's fragile composure. Then he'd been charismatic. Patric always got his own way. he still lived in Auckland. laughing cynically—had just walked over her grave.four. intensely magnetic. now it blazed forth—dominating and determined. Kate stretched out a hand to her son. Literally a jet-setter. Owner and managing director of one of New Zealand's most active and profitable aviation companies. 'That's what you need—a cup of tea. 'Come on. protest. he held a chair for her.' he said. I'll get you one. After a swift look at the man who held her arm. nodding.'You need a drink. Once in the air-conditioned tea room. Where on earth had Patric come from? Was he living in Australia now? Here on the Gold Coast? Impossible. Only Patric got such instant service. Someone—Fate perhaps. Colorado. summoned by a combination of his . irradiated by the promise of power. refuse. Nick's hot fingers clamped onto hers. and apartments in London and New York. 'Yes.

thank you.' 'And what will you have?' Patric asked Nick.' 'Thank you. 'The years have been kind to you—you're as beautiful as ever. It didn't work. examining her face without any pretence at tact.over six foot three of him.physical presence. she took a shallow breath and braced herself.' he said politely. He asked. She couldn't lie.' he said silkily. smiling at her as she tucked her pencil behind her ear. leaning back in his chair.' she said as she strove for a casual. please. 'Are you living in Australia now?' Patric asked. all she could produce were stilted monosyllables. she didn't blame the waitress for blushing and simpering before hurrying off as though she'd been given a royal command. Repressing her churning emotions. noticing the lack of any wedding ring before flicking up again. the tough authority that stamped his face and bearing. Patric gave the order to the waitress. with broad shoulders and long legs—and something just as impressive but more intangible. 'Orange juice or water. Kate?' 'Tea.' . No sign of the smile softened his angular features when he turned back to Kate. 'No. 'Tea or coffee. Unsparing eyes measured her. then fell to her hand. 'Hello. friendly tone. Kate Brown. Kate had basked in that potent smile all through her adolescence. not with Nick sitting there.

' And to cover the bluntness of her reply she tacked on.' Nick held out a hand. Nick. 'Yes. . Did he remember? Yes. 'Hello.' There was a cold. Nick. melted. this is an old friend of mine. he remembered.' he said with solemn courtesy. 'Do you live here?' His beautiful. Mr Sutherland. She had to swallow before she could say formally. charged note in the deep voice when he asked.' 'It depends on the business. she managed to smile. on her eighteenth birthday— three days before he'd made love to her—he'd buried his face in her hair and told her never to cut it. she gave him the look—the glare known to all children that means not another word or there will be retribution. Mr Sutherland. hard mouth twisted subtly. 'This is my son. dissolved.Sensing that Nick was about to break into speech. 'So you're still a New Zealander?' Dark. 'Aren't you going to introduce us?' At first Kate's throat and mouth were too dry to get the words out. Recognising it. Almost seven years ago. I'm over on business. she thought feverishly as his gaze moved to her face.' Although beads of sweat clung stickily to her temples. metallic eyes were examining the mahogany highlights in her hair. Nick subsided into silence. and she couldn't dislodge a blockage in her chest. 'It must be a pleasant place to work. Something brittle in her shattered. 'No.

Kate didn't fool herself. 'Mr Frost is right. establishing a men. and without pause asked. but Mr Frost says she looks like my sister. that wistful little fairy story. An exhausting mixture of despair and humiliation flowed through her. pleased at being the focus of Patric's attention. She was going to have to tell him. Nick could be reserved with strangers if he didn't like them. On the thirty-first of October—just five more weeks and then I'll really be six. 'You're tall for your age. adding before Kate could stop him. Who is he?' 'He's my teacher. Nick?' 'Six. bronzed fingers engulfed the slighter. not my mother. and that would effectively ruin the fantasy she'd hidden so well in the privacy of her mind that she hadn't even been aware of it until she saw Patric's ruthless.' Although Patric's gaze stayed on Nick. disturbing face again.' . Beneath the superb framework of that uncompromising face his brain was making connections. Mummy will be twenty-five in February next year. boyish ones.Patric's lean. 'How old are you. Patric said thoughtfully. Welcome to the real world.' 'Yes.' Her son grinned. Better late than never—but oh.together situation that had to appeal to a child with no visible father. 'Well. Gravely he returned the greeting. but I will be soon. but he was no more immune to the charm of Patric's smile than anyone else. not yet.' Nick said. it had hurt no one.' Patric's smile was a masterpiece. 'I'll soon be taller than Mummy.

Mr Sutherland?' Patric's expression froze.' Kate said inadequately.' 'I see. For nearly seven long years it hadn't passed her lips. and saying it tore apart the barrier she'd constructed with such painful determination. and so we got seven days in Surfers' Paradise and a free ticket to all the parks like this. 'I don't have a wife.' . We came now because it's the holidays. 'Clever Kate.' Laura dead? 'I'm so sorry. Mine died three years ago. 'Have you got any boys like me.' Nick told Patric importantly. 'I'm checking out a firm I'm thinking of buying. Kate accepted her tea gratefully. Kate interposed. 'No. taller.This was getting too close to home. But Nick hadn't finished. adding with a teasing glance at his mother. He asked.' he said pleasantly. 'Oh. 'Are you enjoying the theme parks?' . sitting straighter. A rapier glance pierced Kate's meagre poise. Clumsily. He said. 'But Mummy doesn't like to go on the rides very much. you see. Patric?' His name stumbled across her tongue.' he said eagerly. Nick beamed.' and looked again at Nick. 'What are you doing here?' 'She won a prize.' Nick visibly expanded. yes. The waitress arrived then. and added. 'What business brings you to the Gold Coast. I have to go back to school when we get home. and drank some down.' he said.' Patric said. with a tray. 'It was a tragedy. 'She made up a poem about lemonade.

One day we're going to go there—when I'm bigger. He said lightly to Nick. 'Did you used to know Mummy? Is that why you came here?' 'I used to know her very well. Her uncle managed the station. Patric's eyes fingered for a moment on Kate's hair. That effortless magnetism had always surrounded her son.' Patric didn't look at Kate.'And you do?' 'I love them!' he said. 'Yes. and her hand shook a little as she picked up her cup again.ably. 'I'm surprised you managed to persuade your mother onto a roller-coaster. open friendliness. in the Poto Valley?' Nick asked knowledge. He'd gone sunnily through infancy to school. She just managed to stop herself from putting up a nervous hand to push the black tresses into shape. adding.' 'Tatamoa. with such exuberance that the people at the next table glanced at him and smiled.' Nick told him. 'She tells me stories about that place. When she was fourteen she came with her uncle and aunt and cousins to live on the big cattle and sheep station my father owned. that's it.' 'I just asked and asked. Kate's heart contracted.' 'Did you live there too?' . in his pram people used to stop and comment on what a splendid child he was. hiding his formidable intelligence and fierce will with a bright. She's always been afraid of heights.

' 'Did you see us on the roller-coaster?' Nick asked. she said.' .' Although Patric spoke smoothly he didn't try to hide the mockery in his eyes. 'Yes. he drank his orange juice with enthusiasm. Patric must have waited by the exit for them. 'Goodbye. Thank you for the drink. we can't take you out of your way. Tension stretched to breaking point. Nick-?' 'I'm sure Nick will enjoy my car. Mr Sutherland. but we always came down for the summer holidays. ^ Reining in the irritation that would have revealed far too much. but we like riding on the bus. 'Oh. because my father worked there. 'No. 'No. she flashed a smile in Patric's direction and improvised recklessly. and thought it would be fun to say hello. I saw you from the hotel next door. 'It's time we moved on.' Which seemed perfectly sensible to Nick. Say goodbye. The bus will be fine. Nodding. with the innocent self-absorption of the very young. Patric. She knew what was coming. don't we.' After a mildly exasperated glance—he was rather proud of remembering his manners—Nick said politely. she realised with a chill of foreboding. Kate kept her eyes fixed on Nick's face while her brain struggled to process this.Patric shook his black head. I hope your business here goes well for you. Nice to see you again. Determined to put an end to it.' 'Do you have a car?' Patric asked. Nick. I lived in Auckland with my parents.

fruitful action. a friend lent it to me. Thank you. it's very kind of you. So why was he forcing the issue when he knew damned well that she didn't want anything more to do with him? Nick looked from one to the other. 'Don't touch anything. 'Is it yours.' His grin soothed some tightly wound fear. 'Why can't we go with Mr Sutherland. As Patric closed the door on Kate in the front. then. Kate grinned back. He'd never had to—people always fell in with his wishes.' 'Not even the seat?' 'Don't you be smart with me.' Nick settled in the back and began to examine the fittings. Mummy?' Desperation forced Kate's brain into swift. 'Whereas the car's in the parking building just around the corner. his brows creasing slightly. 'Of course we can.' Nick breathed. 'It's a Rolls Royce!' One of his intense. she turned anxiously. mister. Large and dark green.people that this was a private car park. Collectedly she said.' His smile was subtly taunting.' It wasn't like Patric to over-persuade. 'Let's go. 'Cool.'The bus will be hot and full. all right?' . 'No. it sat in an area ringed with notices warning . shortlived passions had been cars. Mr Sutherland?' Patric opened the rear door for him. 'Nothing else.' The car was parked in the hotel basement.' Patric's eyes glinted with unholy appreciation of her capitulation.

'It's a pleasant place. 'Robinson's Hotel is just this side of Cavill Avenue. 'I'm not surprised—you could just about live in a car this size. 'I know it. Sitting in a vehicle was infinitely more intimate than being across a table in a crowded cafe.' Nick exclaimed. 'there's a television here!' Kate forced a laugh.fingered. Too close—even in this huge car he was too close. or excitingly fierce against a woman's soft skin. Kate's heartbeat picked up speed. I believe. The car drew up at an intersection. long. holding her hands still in her lap. waiting on the lights. isn't it? I believe it's still raining at home. She concentrated on relaxing her taut muscles. 'Where are you staying?' Patric asked. 'Mummy. Kate's fingers clenched. 'Very pleasant. competent—hands that could be tender.' 'How long have you been here?' . His hands rested confidently on the wheel.Patric opened the driver's door and slid behind the wheel..' he observed.' she said. loosened. and as the big car eased out of the parking bay she managed to say-steadily.' 'New Zealand's having its wettest spring for decades.' Patric said.' He manoeuvred between two other cars. 'It's glorious weather.' she said colourlessly. one driven by a tourist if its erratic progress was anything to judge by.. Kate's throat tightened.

although Nick loved the thunderstorm we had this afternoon. 'It wouldn't have made much difference.Her voice dropped.' .' 'When storms start coming across the Gold Coast you know summer's on its way. 'Since yesterday. she stared straight ahead. And the boy. 'You could start by explaining why you didn't tell me almost seven years ago that you were pregnant. When a uniformed porter emerged.' Denying the wild thunder of her pulses. 'I'd like to see you again.' In the small.' 'We have a lot to talk about.' he said. 'I don't think that would be a good idea. Kate said huskily. looking around him with interest. Kate. Patric. 'My son won't grow up not knowing his father. We have nothing in common—we never did. She hated lying. his deep. Nick pushed open the door and hopped out. I'll ring you. I hope the weather stays like this. Patric said levelly.' Ruthlessness hardened his voice. I said then that I didn't want to continue our relationship. vulnerable face. I'm saying it again. taut cocoon of silence that enclosed the front of the car. composed—say.' She'd been expecting some such request. Watching him carefully.' 'We have nothing to talk about. 'One of the things I always found so fascinating about you was the contrast between your intelligence and that doeeyed. bracing herself for it.' Patric said laconically. quiet voice edged with menace as he eased the huge car between the palms on either side of the entrance to Robinson's Hotel. Above the thick roar in her ears she heard her voice—cool.

'Try not to work yourself up. . she thought. In a hoarse voice she said. Kate. His long. pushing a shaking hand through the heavy mass of silken hair that clung to her neck and temples. but obstacles are made to be overcome. 'He was born almost exactly nine months after we made love.' she said unevenly.' Quietly. 'Besides. leading him away from the Rolls towards the reception area of the apartment block.' How did he know that? He looked past her as Nick came up to her door. and took Nick's hand.White-lipped. there was no lover. 'It's the truth. 'Nine months and two weeks. he said. Kate returned. 'It's not that simple. lethally. 'You were a virgin. I remember it vividly.' She scrambled out.' I can't bear this. Nothing worthwhile is ever easy. but he continued with icy detachment. I'll ring you tomorrow morning. 'And don't try telling me Nick's the son of your lover at university—you hadn't even gone to Christchurch when the boy would have been conceived. Don't make any plans for the day.' .' 'I'm sure that's within the normal range of gestation. he added coldly. In an almost soundless voice Patric said.' Eyes hooded and dangerous. and all pretence of composure vanished as the short. 'Goodbye. But it had to be endured. ugly syllables dragged across her tongue. well-cut mouth thinned into a cruel line.' Kate opened her mouth.' he said curtly.' She had to force herself to continue. Patric. I'm afraid.' She shook her head. 'Don't lie. 'He's not your son.

'why did we come here?' 'Oh. Kate and Nick went sedately past the tennis courts. didn't look back. opulent thunk. 'How about you?' 'A milkshake?' 'Why not?' She smiled at the porter as she and Nick went out through a side door and walked steadily beneath the palms that were the Gold Coast's signature plant.' she said brightly. they walked back into the vestibule. but stared longingly while they walked past the apparatus. . 'Mummy. look! There's a bungee jump!' 'No. unless he found some pursuit that would safely satisfy his thirst for adventure. beside a wall brightened by a scarlet drape of bougainvillea.' Nick said. 'Mummy. Kate had to strain her ears to hear the vehicle whisper away. he grinned at them before stooping to adjust something on his skateboard.' Kate said automatically. was going to be a nightmare. About fifteen.' He laughed. and a discussion about the menu cards. She didn't turn. Kate thought grimly. the car door closed with a soft. wide-eyed. A skateboarder shot past. Kate couldn't prevent a swift glance through the large glass doors but of course the Rolls was long gone. Let's go and have a look at it. through beautifully manicured gardens. slowing and stopping as they passed the entrance to a complex of pools. His adolescence.Behind them. eventually leaving the grounds through a small gate that opened onto the street behind. I just thought it might be fun to eat at the restaurant one day. 'When we get back home I want something cold to drink. 'You're too young. its place taken by two taxis. shall we?' After a tour of the restaurant.

then said in his most comforting voice. darling. its cargo of girls waving at every passerby. it wasn't. she said easily. Sometimes she'd imagined meeting Patric again.' he said smugly.' 'I don't. He turned and watched the skateboarder surge out onto the footpath. we can go for a swim when we get back home and then your headache will go away. not hers.' After gazing at a vivid yellow minimoke chugging along the road. 'No. he added thoughtfully.' . 'Was it because you went on the roller-coaster?' Kate laughed. and she and Nick would be safe again. not my head. corroding grief. It's my stomach I have to watch out for on roller-coasters. not bothering to . but in her dreams it had been vastly different from that unnerving. surprising her with his perception. And .' Kate had once watched Patric walk surely and swiftly across a narrow plank suspension bridge high above a gorge. Fear tasted coppery in her mouth and sweat trickled down her back. Then he'd go. Of course he assumed that he was Nick's father. 'What's the matter?' Nick asked. violently painful experience. He looked guilty.Perhaps she could convince him that skateboarding was the way to go. and a relentless. she thought as the noise of the boarder's wheels started up behind them again. 'I don't s'pose Mr Sutherland has to worry about his stomach when he goes on roller. Reaction was setting in.when he thought it over. 'I think I might be getting a headache. he'd realise she had no reason to lie. Fighting back apprehension and anger and self-pity. but that was his problem. 'Never mind.coasters.

Why haven't I got cousins?' It made her heart raw to talk about those days so long ago. 'Because I didn't have any brothers and sisters.touch the single wire that others had clung to all the way across. 'I don't suppose so. only about Uncle Toby and Aunt Jean and your cousins all beginning with J—Juliet and Josephine and Jenny. she'd lie her soul into hell for her son. And the horses. Still. How old were you when your mummy and daddy were killed on Mount Everest and you had to go and live with Aunt Jean and Uncle Toby and the cousins?' 'Three. 'I didn't know Mr Sutherland came to Poto when you were there. . What was it with some people that made them want to terrify the wits out of themselves? Adrenalin addiction? Nick said. Probably eyeing the bungee jump too. They walked on in silence until he asked casually.' She stepped to one side to let the skateboarder past. Now. You didn't tell me about him. looking back on the lies she'd told Patric half an hour previously. days perpetually hazed with summer's golden light.' 'Younger than me. but he seemed content to idle along behind them. and the swimming pool in the creek. she said.' 'I've got second cousins. It had weighed heavily on her conscience. Ruthlessly suppressing the image. he'd been in a hurry to get to her. though. He hadn't been showing off. but she could think of no other way to protect him from inevitable disillusion. she thought with a defeated irony that she was getting quite good at them.' he said. 'Did Mr Sutherland know my father?' She'd told him his father was dead.

Now that they had escaped Patric that simmering anxiety would soon fade. a heavy stillness probably indicated a towering thunderhead somewhere close by. blonde. Late that night she realised that she'd been too optimistic. but apparently he was satisfied for the moment. Leaning against the balustrade. Although the air was warm.Aloud she said. such fun when they finally got here. counter. roll from her shoulders. As they turned down the road that led to their low-rise block of apartments she could feel the pressure lift. ready to progress regally over the Gold Coast with maximum noise and drama. punctuated by bursts of laughter. . she stared down at the courtyard. bikini-clad rider.pointed the hum of traffic through this favoured strip of land with its long. turn off the light and slide back the door onto the balcony. the scent of sausages and steak and seafood hung on the air. screened from it by fronds of the ever-present palms. She'd been so happy when she'd won the prize. Kate didn't delude herself that Nick had said all he had to say about Patric. He might have. Restlessness and a chilly breath of foreboding drove her to put her book down. across the coastal plain and out to sea. 'The Poto Valley is a small place. easing stressed tendons and muscles. Someone had barbecued their dinner in the courtyard. her finefeatured face incongruous beneath the helmet. and she and Nick had had such fun planning the trip. all black and shiny and reeking of machismo—unlike its small. beautiful beaches and glamorous tourist trade. the property manager had told Nick that each summer they built up inland and moved down • the escarpment.' To her great relief Nick forgot about the past in the excitement of pointing out a Harley motorcycle. Voices.

Would Patric notice the changes? Her breasts were fuller—though still not voluptuous—and the flat plane of her stomach had rounded a little.coaster? And why hadn't almost seven years given her some defences against him? Only two hours previously. Perhaps she should start thinking of an excuse not to go to any more. Rapidly. or get the opportunity to realise anew how long her legs were. Now she stared blindly into the warm. she'd thought. What if Patric found them again? How could he? Thousands of tourists inhabited the apartment blocks and hotels that lined the beach. That afternoon she'd had to run away. No. furious with herself as she'd turned away. because he wasn't ever going to see them. he didn't know which theme parks they hadn't yet visited. she went over their conversation. . Or that the small amount of weight she'd lost had fined her down. and reiterated that she couldn't afford to surrender to the weakness that drew her to him. unkind fate had brought Patric to that hotel in time to see her on a roller. seductive night. when she'd showered before bed.What wilful. Pregnancy had added slight stretchmarks on the soft gold of her skin—faded now to thin silver lines. Would he find them ugly? No. she'd found herself staring at her brightly lit image. Although she still found Patric wildly attractive. frowning into the night. that Wasn't important. His arrival in their lives threatened Nick's safety and wellbeing. The mirrors at home were so small it was years since she'd seen herself full length.

that was overreacting. she straightened her shoulders. he'd have neither the time nor the ability to stand outside every theme park looking for her and Nick. but that would be infinitely safer than having Patric hunt them down. it was for Nick. Stepping back. Anyway. Should they just go home? No. Browns. two hours' drive north of Auckland and more than five hours away from Poto? Her mouth trembled. so they should be out' of Australia and home in New Zealand before he posted anyone there. yet she was forced to hide. a small provincial city.Nick would be angry and upset. And for Nick she would do anything. she'd done nothing wrong. Her mouth tilted in a humourless smile as she imagined him split into several Patrics. . He was all she lived for. And once they were back in New Zealand he'd never find them. why would he think of Whangarei. ragged breath and realised that her fingers were clinging to the balustrade. waiting impatiently outside every park. Still. It was so unfair. the only thing that made her life worthwhile. each hard and confident and authoritative. Patric might watch the airport at Brisbane. Patric was here on business. Kate drew in a deep. so even if he looked in the Whangarei book he wouldn't recognise her. All they had to do was stay away and he'd never find them. but they only had four days to go instead of the week she'd intimated. New Zealand phone books were filled with K.

swished in to feed from trays of specially prepared food held high by hopeful tourists.The next day Kate organised a trip to a bird sanctuary where—to Nick's stunned delight—hundreds of brilliantly coloured lorikeets. Kate took photographs of her son's absorbed. Quarrelling and pushing. complaining vociferously as it tried to get at the syrup. Nick held the tray aloft in clenched hands. scrambling to eat the sticky preparation. luminously blue and red and gold. Another swooped low and landed on his shoulder. Mr Sutherland. then four birds rocketed down and landed on his tray. 'Mummy!' Nick breathed. and then his face changed and he said. pulsating spiral that streamed across the tops of the trees and out of sight. Carefully. Unable for once to speak. squabbling and noisy as only parrots can be. the birds ate greedily until some unknown alarm signal sent them whirling and wheeling upwards in a ragged. 'Hello. his face oddly white beneath his cap. fascinated face as two. he gazed up at her. did you see the birds? Did you see them on me? Did you see the one on my shoulder? I could feel its claws in my skin!' .

but it would only put off the inevitable reckoning. and so did Mummy. she'd endured agony and degradation and sheer horror. Forcing her shocked features into immobility. I saw the bird. 'Would you like something to eat and drink now that the lorikeets have gone? I know a place with a pool where birds come up to the verandah. trying to contain its tumult. thank God he wasn't looking at her. Better to face him. how could she have thought she'd escaped him? 'Hello. 'Lots of people took my photo.' Patric looked down at Nick with a smile that held nothing of the hidden antagonism he'd directed at Kate. 'but it held on tight. she realised she was pressing a clenched fist to her heart. Kate. She dragged a breath into her labouring lungs. they were Walking across the open space towards the gate—just like a family. She could protest. but she had never known such a blast of fear as she knew then. high place like a cage. thank you. 'Yes. 'What did its claws feel like?' 'Little and scratchy.' 'An aviary. Nick said politely.' Kate said thinly.' she said. I can show the class at school.' He beamed.' he told Nick.' Nick said. 'Hello. and birds in a high. and was dimly proud of her steady voice.CHAPTER TWO IN THE past Kate had been threatened with death. Patric. some soggily sentimental part of her thought wistfully. Nick's face swung dizzily. And we went all around this park and saw koala bears and wombats.' By the time Kate had got herself together it was too late. . His smile had a predatory edge. This was no coincidence. Yes.

Silently Kate allowed herself to be put into the front seat. Since that first icy blast of antagonism Patric hadn't looked at her. he said. But she couldn't let him go on thinking that Nick was his son.' Nick said helpfully.' The replacement was.' Patric's dark gaze rested on the boy's face with something like hunger. so he hadn't believed her. How the hell had he found them? She'd thought she'd been so clever.' Patric said. judging by Nick's open appreciation. and although she'd recovered from the trauma the sordid experience still sickened her. without looking at Kate. large and opulent.'How did you get here?' Patric asked as they walked out of the sanctuary. My friend needed it to take his dog to the vet. 'We came in a bus. however. And after she'd convinced him. and if asked to choose the last person in the world she'd want to reveal the truth to. not a Rolls Royce today. Nick grinned at him. Kate flinched. 'We've got a car at home. although his steely tone was directed at her. it too was something special in the car line. . 'Not this time. 'No. but he'd been even cleverer.' 'I'll take you back to your apartment after we've had something to eat. Now she'd have to explain exactly what had happened. Ignoring her completely. she'd have to swear him to secrecy. 'In the Rolls Royce?' he asked. Apart from the therapist who'd helped her • deal with it she'd told no one. she'd have picked Patric. though—a Mini called Eugene.

She'd so desperately wanted it to be true that she'd let herself believe it. she'd been alone. she wasn't stupid. It had been the sum of all her hopes. At eighteen. moonstruck by the heady excitement of being the woman Patric wanted. of their employer's son—even taking no notice of kind. moneyed world. . and she'd thought that nothing could ever go wrong again. so cold they froze her heart. She didn't belong in Patric's high-flying. who'd warned Kate that no good would come of her pursuit. and as green as grass. the young Kate had been awed by invitations to the homestead. who had told her gently but decisively that Patric was not for her—she had danced on to an inevitable reckoning. regal Mrs Sutherland. Kate had been impressed by his brilliance. the delusion that dazzled and enchanted her into his bed. No sign of love there now. As well as wealth. reckless dreams. Ignoring her aunt.That was Patric—always one step ahead. How dazed she had been when Patric told her he loved her—those three words that wove a snare about her. How young she'd been! She turned to check that Nick was belted in. registering nothing but her feverish. as she saw it. Well and truly out of her depth. and she'd done very well at school. six glamorous. Yet although the summer holidays had passed in a whirl of activity amongst the friends and visitors who flocked every year to Tatamoa. but then he didn't belong in hers either. lost in love. and for a moment met Patric's eyes. Oh. she thought cynically. experienced years had separated the son and heir to the Sutherland aviation empire from the niece of his parents' farm manager. but everyone knew that Patric had a formidable brain.

' . their white bodies making them look like a sinister corps de ballet. watching the birds with interest. Are you interested in birds?' Nick looked puzzled. bare heads and begged for food.' she said. was impressed when Patric said briskly. Patric looked at Kate. 'I have no idea. Why do you think the birds here sing in the daytime and they don't at home?' Kate.' Nick nodded. "The story of your life. He said with questionable pleasantness. Normally she drank tea. 'Don't give them anything. but you should be able to find out.' 'Like the sparrows and seagulls at home. 'What would you like to eat?' Nick chose a sandwich and a milkshake.' Patric lifted his brows slightly. Beneath the dark. A faint queasiness persuaded her to add. 'It shows he's got an active mind.' Patric directed Nick as the waitress showed them out onto a wide screened verandah. thank you. 'Nick has a driving curiosity.' he said. feathery foliage of sheoak trees sedate ibises lifted black. The powerful face was unreadable.He took them to a pleasant. adding without emphasis. 'They don't need it and they can become a nuisance. but an extra charge of caffeine would be welcome. 'Coffee.' before switching his attention back to Nick. 'Black brows raised. who'd already tried to deal with this. as were his eyes. 'I just want to know. cool restaurant beside a park where water splashed over rocks into a small lakelet. 'I s'pose that's why there aren't many seagulls here—the ibises take all the food.' Kate told him drily. 'And I'll have a sandwich too.

She'd forgotten his intense. Time and authority had reinforced that enviable assurance. she thought. 'but it sounds lovely. He'd remembered her juvenile addiction to club sandwiches. black hair. crackling vitality. However. it gave life to those enigmatic. Kate sat stiffly. and the whole magnetic male package was buttressed by a sexual glitter all the more compelling for being so firmly leashed.'Club?' he asked. drawn by his charismatic. disturbing masculinity. and gradually she relaxed back into the chair. Part of it was the contrast between the colouring he'd inherited from his Spanish mother— bronze skin. . Although his mouth was beautifully moulded no one would ever call him a conventionally handsome man. modified the control he exerted over his features and humanised the dominant. ready to intervene if Patric should want to know things she needed to keep hidden.' she said composedly. Or was he trying to reinforce her memory of that long-ago summer when he'd wooed her and won her? To cover her confusion she gazed at the menu. almost dizzy with a suspect pleasure. When it arrived Nick downed half a glass with gusto and chattered asking questions and answering the ones addressed to with open ingenuousness. and asked for a jug of iced water. he didn't step over her unspoken boundaries.' He ordered. Kate thought wearily. he took her breath away. uncompromising framework of his face. dark grey—and the austere bone structure and build that had been handed down through his Scottish ancestors. and eyes of cold. 'I haven't had a club sandwich for years. yet even when he'd been barely twenty people had swivelled as he'd walked into a room. Shock silenced her for long enough to cause an awkward pause. not purely sexual. Now. unsettling eyes.

' Nick was saying chattily. so caught up in her recollections that Patric's question barely impinged. Join the throng. For the month they'd been in residence the Poto Valley had buzzed. It amused her that from other tables on the big verandah other women glanced covertly at Patric. Pilar and Patric—always accompanied by Alex's widowed sister Barbara Cusack and her son Sean. only settling down to a quieter. I'm in J2. but sometimes she has to work late and then I stay with Mr and Mrs Schumaker next door. 'Mummy.Perhaps. she thought. and I can read the best—' He wasn't boasting. but Kate interrupted sharply. his father. more mundane life once they'd departed. unwarranted jealousy! Nick said reasonably. 'In Stanner Street. I go to Whau Valley School and Mum works in a dress shop in Cameron Street. she thought cynically. Nick. and usually by other family and friends—had spent the Christmas holidays on Tatamoa. had been founded by his grandfather. part of that attraction was the armour of money and position. arriving with all the drama and panache of exotic migrating birds. 'In Whangarei. she thought with sick dismay. why hadn't she kept her wits about her? Because she couldn't control a stupid. She only goes until I come home from school. you know I can—' . or my friend Rangi MacArthur just down the road.' Too late. 'Black' Pat. on Tatamoa station airstrip and every summer Alex. and by the time she registered what he'd asked it was too late. Oh. Kate took a sip of water and allowed her attention to wander as Patric and Nick began to discuss snakes. The aviation empire left to Patric by Alex Sutherland. "That's enough.

'I know. humiliated. Gold chains festooned her tanned throat. 'Why didn't you go with them?' Patric asked.' 'Why didn't you stay with your aunt and uncle?' She looked out over the lake.' Kate said in a low voice.' 'I don't know that I'd trust you to be as veracious as Nick. deeply disturbed and feeling like trash—incapable of behaving rationally— she'd been unable to tell them she was pregnant. 'You're staring. Stiffly Kate said. 'Nick. 'I needed a place to live. look! There's a black swan.' Waiting until he was absorbed in the sight.' Switching her gaze to Patric. she said in a voice that made her son stare at her. more were looped around her thin wrists. she went on remotely. 'You probably don't remember. My cousins and I had all left home by then. 'Why did you move to Whangarei?' The damage was done now.' Nick transferred his absorbed attention from the swan to a woman who'd just been shown to a table. but they left Tatamoa after I went back to university.' Shocked. As she stared blankly out across the pool. leaning back in his seat and surveying her with an oblique smile. Tanned and slender. Nick's eyes switched from the woman to a family at the next table. 'I didn't want to. she flicked back long silver-gilt hair that dazzled above her white clothes. . 'Ask me any questions you want answered. It was exactly a week after the May holidays when you and I met for the last time. so my aunt and uncle decided on a complete change of direction and went off to manage a motel in the Cook Islands.' he said. ringed fingers tapped impatiently on the table.

she looked at him.' Her voice was distant as she. 'How do you know?' 'I got someone to check.' Kate cast a harried glance at Nick.' His voice roughened. I managed. 'I didn't need to. only to discover they were no longer at Tatamoa. 'The same man who discovered that you'd lied in May. 'You stopped going to lectures in June. Kate. but he was exchanging tentative smiles with a girl his own age at the next table. 'Where did you go then?' Astonished.' He smiled at her. 'You should have come to me. settled on Nick's face.' he said evenly.' she repeated. when you flung your new lover in my teeth. She even managed to keep her tone steady as she added. she bit the words back. sending a shiver the length of her spine. forced memories back into the bitter past. 'When I discovered that.'You dropped out of university. refusing to let their bleakness stain the present. and disappeared. That would be indicating he might have some claim to Nick. showing his teeth.' he said. 'Why didn't you tell me?' Tempted to ask what his brand-new wife would have thought if Kate had turned up pregnant.' His eyes left her. meeting eyes as disinterested and purposeful as weapons. 'It had nothing to do with you.' 'I'd have helped. I was told they'd gone to Australia. I rang your aunt and uncle.' Patric paused before finishing. . I assumed you'd gone with them—and that you didn't contact me because you didn't want to. 'You had no connection with the—the situation I found myself in.

Kate added stubbornly. 'I despise liars. all eyes and hair and worshipful wonder. silly Kate Brown again.' he said levelly. It casts a long shadow.' "She dyes it. Kate drew in a deep breath. Mr Sutherland. dazzled and overawed and lost in the depthless. do you?' . 'That waitress liked you. Fortunately the arrival of their orders gave her the chance to huddle into the tatters of her self-control.' A pulse flicked in his jaw. Glancing again at Nick to make sure he still wasn't paying attention. anyway. 'You don't dye your hair. 'You can never be free of the past. 'That must make you feel immensely superior. Patric said softly. 'It's not important now. 'Her hair was red on the ends and black by her head.' Kate told him.He scrutinised her with dark impenetrable eyes.' Far from listening to them.' Nick observed when they were alone again. 'She kept looking at you.' 'I liked her too.' Patric said.' Before she could react to what had sounded like a direct threat his smile banished her pain and her fear. Nick was staring with appalled fascination at one of the children in the nearby family party. It was a long time ago and things have changed completely. eyeing his plate with every appearance of satisfaction. dangerous seas of first love. and for a few seconds she was young. black-eyed blonde of three or so who'd begun a spectacular tantrum. 'Can you manage that big sandwich?' 'I'm hungry. Kate. never.' he said with gusto. a small. deliberately relaxing the tense muscles in her face and neck.

' 'No. 'That's a lovely thought. but I'll probably be old enough to look after myself by then. . or we might have to go before you've finished. Immediately the waitress headed towards them.Your mother's hair has always been that colour.' 'When she was a little girl?' 'She was fourteen when her uncle came to work for my father. gold chains gleaming expensively. Nick stared at Patric. I'm sorry. the woman flashed a practised smile at Patric.' Patrick said easily. Patric waited until she'd got there.' Patric said.' he said. then scrambled to his feet too. his glance lingering on the thick.' Nick told his mother..' The thought of leaving it behind filled him with such horror that he settled into silently dismembering it. Ignoring Kate and Nick. glossy tresses. 'Excuse me?' The strident voice with its upward intonation startled them all— except Patric. then asked her for matches. 'You don't happen to have a light. wringing Kate's heart. 'When I'm fourteen I'll be grown up and I can look after you. though. do you? I seem to have lost mine. 'She use to wear it longer. Kate noticed. and turned his head towards the serving station. You'd better start on that food. He got to his feet as the woman with the silver-gilt hair arrived at their table.

I understand?' 'I believe so. Mummy—is she. thanked him. "Thank you. You're remarkably handsome too. Nick emphasised both words. 'Not at all pretty. Kate and Patric laughed together.' he said.' Kate reassured him. 'She liked you too. 'Nowhere near as pretty.' 'I'd like to see you tonight. 'She's pretty.' 'Not pretty.' For a moment she and Patric hovered on the brink of some sort of harmony. she saw a dark glint in the depths as he said gravely. 'No. Nick eyed her thoughtfully as he sat down. the iron determination beneath the words sending a shiver down her spine. Unexpectedly. 'But I have no intention of using it. 'That wouldn't be a good idea. and went back to her table. 'we need to talk.The silver-gilt woman treated him to a lingering smile. 'Eat up.' . with a meaningless smile.' Heat flared across Kate's skin.' Horrified.' she said.' 'Kate. she returned. Although his hard-edged face showed no emotion.' Kate replied guardedly. But not as pretty as you. forestalling him by adding.' he said. 'You have a babysitting service at your apartments. a fragile rapport that shattered when he said. Lightly. Mr Sutherland?' Patric took the opportunity to scrutinise Kate's face.' Patric said. 'Nick—' She overrode him. Nick. his face as purposeful as his voice.

' He leaned back and surveyed her. even if she and Nick had to leave Whangarei. So she'd have to tell him the truth—or as much of it as she could tailor to this situation.' he contradicted. Patric wouldn't give up. strong. 'If I'd known—' . picking up her cup with a shaking hand. he might well reveal her whereabouts to the one man she feared and loathed— yet she had to stiffen every muscle in her body before she could say.' she said bleakly. 'Don't you like your sandwich?' She pushed the plate a little to one side. his cold eyes implacable. hot. New Zealand's too small for secrets to lie hidden for ever. And then she'd have to swear him to silence. 'I know what you're thinking. 'I'd have found out eventually. and he was determined to play some part in the boy's life.' This secret would. not the light that licked across Nick's dark head as he solidly masticated his way through his food. she thought grimly. mockery flicking each word. But once he knew the truth he wouldn't care. she thought into the lengthening silence— not the sun. Kate.' His eyes branded her a liar. 'No. He thought Nick was his son.' he said. 'Yes. 'I'm not hungry. hoping the coffee would banish the slow shudders that started somewhere in her heart and were spreading through her in wintry waves.Her brain was as useless as cotton wool. She drank the coffee. stealing away like refugees. 'I'm not surprised.' she said. the stark bone structure of his face giving him an impressive force and power. Nothing could. it still didn't warm her. barely tasting it. Patric had no claims on either her or Nick—worse. 'but it isn't so. and laden with caffeine.

'Pukekos are a New Zealand bird. We'll discuss this later. thank you. . 'Birds don't sigh. so I imagine that thousands of years ago a couple of very tough pukekos—one male. 'Are you all right?' 'Yes. 'Yes. Patric said. None at all. I bet they were happy. brusquely. 'Nick.' he said after a long. for caffeine as a stimulant.' He swung around. she thought sickly.' Patric asked Kate quietly. though. searing irony.' Nick's brows drew into a knot.' 'Would you like some more coffee?' 'No.' Although her nerves felt like slowly shredding tissue paper. there's a pukeko.' Nick grinned.'It doesn't matter. when they got there. 'Nice try. look.' He said with cool. Kate. she said. but they're also quite common here. 'The winds usually blow from Australia to New Zealand. considering stare.' So much. 'There's no reason for you to think that anything was your responsibility. to land in New Zealand with a huge sigh of relief. She poured a glass of water and drank it down while Nick finished his sandwich. 'So how did they get here from New Zealand?' he asked. one female—were lifted by cyclonic winds in Australia and carried all the way across the Tasman Sea. 'Or from New Zealand to here?' Patric's mouth twisted.' she said desperately.

In the car Patric asked. all right. an unusual enough event for her to vow that nothing— especially not Patric Sutherland—would be allowed to upset him. But it wouldn't . It had to be done. And typical. she didn't want her son worried.' she said. Otherwise she could be in real danger. 'How did you know where we're staying?' For a moment she didn't think he was going to tell her. Although the traffic had thickened. He did everything well—danced superbly. I paid a passing skateboarder to follow you. It was just as well she'd grown past that juvenile infatuation. played sport skilfully.'Time to go. hoping her voice sounded cool and casual. 'OK. Clever. even if telling him was going to tear her apart. bitter reluctance. 'I'll see you tomorrow night.' Already regretting her decision.' he said cheerfully.' So the young man with a blond ponytail who'd trailed her and Nick from Robinson's Hotel to their apartment building had been Patric's spy. Kate thought savagely. As the car drew to a halt she said with an enormous. I'll call for you at seven.' He put on the handbrake. 'Back to your apartment?' 'Yes. We'll go out to dinner. Patric guided the car through it with skill and courtesy. she gave a stiff nod. Although it wouldn't fool Patric. but as they left the restaurant he took her hand. 'You don't lie well. thank you.' she said rigidly. and made love with such heart-shattering brilliance that the effects still lingered after all these years. 'Tomorrow night—yes. even by omission. Then he said.

Nick made up for everything. And going to a restaurant would give them the buffer of other people. 'Say thank you to Mr Sutherland.do that. darling. 'Can I go with you tomorrow night?' 'No. perhaps she deserved that. but she said. we've got time for a swim before dinner. she thought grimly. I know enough about you now to track you down.' and he forgot about it.' she told Nick. 'Just don't go thinking you can slip back to New Zealand tomorrow. 'Come on. Why did Patric have to be at that hotel when she and Nick were on the roller-coaster? Everything had been going so well—she'd achieved a measure of serenity and centred a quietly satisfying life around her son and her work. trying to work out some sort of strategy for the meeting. Fate. He'd remember later. was a bitch. of the need to act in a civilised manner. That night she twisted sleeplessly in her bed. If only she'd managed to see Patric first! . but by then she'd have recovered a bit of her normal spirit. Patric said silkily.' He was ready to object. At the moment she was too exhausted to deal with her son in a stubborn mood. He made his thanks. and when the car drew away said eagerly. If occasionally she thought wistfully of the hopes and dreams that single motherhood had put paid to. she was much stronger than she'd been when she was eighteen.' Well.

Very maturing. Fascinated throughout her teens by his dark aura. She found to her surprise that she was crying. she thought cynically. Even though each of the years between her eighteen and his twentyfour might have been a century. pointing out the constellations—Orion the summer hunter. but the year she'd turned sixteen she'd fallen in love as only the young can— headlong and wholly—and to her delight and surprise he'd smiled at her with narrowed. noiseless sobs that ached in her throat. a naive country kid from the backblocks. riding high with Sirius at heel. making due allowance for her innocence. Those holidays he'd introduced her to kisses—gentle. she blew her nose and wiped her eyes. and she'd had to grow up in such a hurry. the fuzzy glow of the Pleiades. hummed with reckless intensity through her body. She looked up into the sky. Although it was well after midnight cars still purred along the roads. apparently unaware that . and they'd discussed the likelihood of life on planets around those distant stars.Restlessness clawed at her. and lights in the surrounding high-rise buildings showed that most of the Gold Coast was still awake. the wheeling cross of the south. she'd loved Patric with all the ardour of her young. so silly. gleaming eyes. That had been the beginning. Eventually she got up and walked across to the window. Once Patric had told her the names of the stars. she'd always watched him shyly from a distance. She'd been intrigued. untried heart. so the next time they met he'd brought a pair of binoculars and shown her the coloured stars in the Jewel Box and the red glitter of Antares. How stupid—she hadn't cried for years! Stiffening her shoulders. Sex and pregnancy had a habit of doing that to you. tender kisses. she'd been so young.

He'd made sure they were almost never alone. other people had acted as buffers. staring down at the shifting. untutored response. The following year he'd come back for a week. and the cards arrived infrequently. when he'd taught her to water-ski on the dam. the daughter of his father's best friend. worried by this unusual friendship. where he'd been doing. Or perhaps he had known. they'd kept alive a spark of hope. and although he never wrote much more than a sentence or two. had told her not to get her hopes up. and she'd grieved for a lost dream.beneath the pressure of his already experienced mouth she'd melted. because even then she'd known there could be no future for them. when he'd played tennis with her. fractured lights through the palms. a graduate degree in some form of business studies. when they rode the station horses. That year her aunt. she thought now. and she'd learned just how intense sensual excitement could be. . that Patric would eventually marry a girl from his own circle. he'd probably been well aware of her ardent. After those holidays Patric had left for America. flamed into incandescence. but he'd kissed her with much less restraint. Someone like Laura Williams. Then at the end of her last year at school he'd finally returned. The first postcard had filled her with excitement and relief. burned. their meetings had been short. tight line. Kate's mouth clamped into a hard. He'd been careful and kind—and cruel. Yes. infinitely more sophisticated after two years abroad. and set in motion the turbulent trail of events that had led them to tomorrow's meeting—and indirectly to the boy who slept so peacefully in the next room.

and after that he'd go to bed.' she said.social life was the sort that included children. Now he asked. The intercom rang. 'At ten o'clock. 'I'D be right down. then.' 'At eight o'clock. Mum?' 'I don't know.' she said. The babysitter laughed. Kate lifted the receiver and her heart jolted as Patric's voice said.' . 'Don't worry. which she copied down. 'Where are you going. 'Kate.' Kate said firmly.' Since they'd arrived home from yet another theme park. Grinning. 'I'D come up.' he said.The babysitter turned out to be a pleasant middle-aged woman who got on with Nick immediately. Nick had prowled around the unit. He wasn't used to being left behind.' After giving her a number. eight o'clock it'll be. 'All right.' 'No. 'Just in case there's an emergency. they'd watch a video. He'll probably have a mobile.' 'Can we have a telephone number?' she said. but if he doesn't he can give me the number of the restaurant. 'but when Mr Sutherland comes I'll get a phone number so that if I'm needed I can come straight back home. he said. She said they'd swim. Nick teased. demanding more attention than usual.' He looked relieved.

tall and hard. 'I won't be late. However the soft gold echoed the colour of her skin and contrasted with her bluegreen eyes.She hung up and stooped to kiss Nick.' she replied. featureless foyer. His arms came around her a little fiercely. a man of steel and disciplined . she smiled at him. 'I see very little difference from the girl I remember. Her heart jumped. No doubt he was accustomed to escorting women who wore designer clothes rather than a dress bought in the shop sale. she was still strongly affected by his presence. Although she no longer loved him. perhaps.' he said quietly.' It took all of Kate's determination to get herself to the comfortable. Kate's chin came up in the slightest gesture of defiance. This man.' Her hair swirled around her shoulders as she shook her head. 'See you. by the blazing vitality that seared through his well-cut. 'Thank you. tempered by unknown fires. 'You take my breath away. And her stretched nerves were twisted into knots by the sight of Patric. the stilted words difficult on her tongue.edged and completely in control of himself and his world. Straightening. informal clothes and proclaimed the alpha male.' An old anguish ached through her like the phantom pain from an amputated limb.' he said valiantly. but I expect to find you sound asleep. Narrowed eyes—impersonal as the dark heart of thunderstorm— surveved her. she had done her grieving for the Patric of Tatamoa. 'Outwardly.

"I hope you have changed. 'If you don't change you stagnate. Now it merely reinforced her decision. should remember that. She glanced from her hands to his profile. I tried to tell you before—you're not his father. I know his birth date—' She interrupted jerkily.' His mouth tightened into a forbidding line. Why would I lie to you?' 'I intend to find out. . an arrogant outline against the shimmering lights of the sea front. Sensation shivered through her in a mixture of flame and ice. You. she said.aggression. Screwing her courage to the sticking point. was a different person: compelling. I was a careless young fool with nothing but my own needs and desires in mind. taking her arm to guide her to the car. I'm not like that now.' In any other situation she'd have been afraid of the menacing purr beneath the words. 'Why?' Once they were in motion he said.' she said simply. 'Patric. 'You aren't Nick's father. Kate. magnetic—much more dangerous. of all people. 'Even when I made love to you and left you pregnant?' he asked with self-derisory contempt.' he said. 'It won't work.' 'I remember you being a leader—responsible and courageous and daring.

He put on the indicator and waited until they were halfway across the road before saying. flat voice.' . Controlling it.' For a moment her mouth trembled. 'You'll be perfectly safe while you tell me who else you slept with all those years ago. I certainly didn't want to discuss this in public. you didn't bother to tell me.' She hesitated. she said in a hard. and the car headed straight for a waterfall at the front of a small apartment block on the beach side of the road.' When the car had halted in a designated slot he switched off the engine.' 'Just after you went to Christchurch. although you must have known you were pregnant. 'It's all right. to be exact. 'So you slept with someone else within a week or so of making love to me. when we met that last time in the May holidays. and how you know that Nick is his son and not mine. but beneath and to one side of the glittering curtain of water gaped an entrance. 'Where is this?' she asked huskily.' 'No!' But the barred screen across the parking basement was already rumbling back. 'Just before. We'll eat there. Into the silence he said with barely leashed antagonism. Kate cried out. 'And why.' He turned the wheel. 'My apartment. 'A fortnight later. and this was where the car was heading.' Patric said silkily as they drove down.

made even friendship impossible between Patric and her.CHAPTER THREE HER swift glance at Patric's profile tightened every sinew in Kate. all surface and no individuality. Kate thought with a struggling sense of irony. Naturally. Patric made the luxurious room dwindle and fade around him. leathercovered sofas and chairs. she'd force down the crawling revulsion and tell him. she thought with a sudden stab of pain as he opened her door. Ruthlessly she repressed the unjustified fear. One act of violence almost seven years ago had shattered her dreams. a creamy amber travertine table surrounded by apricot dining chairs in a vaguely French style. She'd made the decision. of course Patric would be in the penthouse! Nothing but the best for the owner and managing director of Sutherland Aviation. decorated in the soft colours fashionable in south-eastern Queensland—a ceramic tiled floor half hidden by an off. And then. A huge sitting room stretched out before her. Without speaking. It looked rich and cool and impersonal. trying to keep her mind away from the disclosures to come. and pictures on the walls selected for their inability to offend. and blue Chinese rug. the hope she'd never been able to stifle would be shown for what it was—hope's poor relation. disturbing on a primal level. . Patric unlocked a door and led her into the apartment. Masterful. it couldn't have been done better. wishful thinking. uncompromising man who closed the door behind Kate. If everything had been chosen to contrast forcefully with the dominant. even the splendid sweep of the ocean through the wall of glass doors took second place to his personality.white. Together they walked across the well-lit basement and took a lift to the penthouse. The lift doors opened onto a thickly carpeted hall.

weighing and measuring as they roamed her face.'Sit down.' 'No. let's get this over and done with. Kate looked directly at him. 'I told you at Tatamoa in the May holidays that it was over. yet would she have been so adamant if she hadn't been kept informed of the other woman's presence in his life? Lifting gritty eyelids. stopping her fingers from worriedly smoothing the soft suede 'But you have something. 'Would you like a drink?' 'No. 'If there was any chance you might be Nick's father I'd have contacted you. dark eyes watching—watching.' It was the truth. 'Nick is not your son. 'Why would I want revenge?' 'Because I married Laura six weeks after the last time we met and exactly four and half months after I'd sworn undying love for you. 'Look.' Carefully controlling the desperation that roiled beneath each word. thank you. You had every right to marry Laura.' Kate said stonily.' He waited until she'd taken one of the leather chairs before asking with an unyielding courtesy that shivered across Kate's exposed nerves. she said. Please believe me.' .' 'Why should I?' 'I'm telling you the truth. But you're not. Patric. She couldn't believe her ears.' 'I think it would be a good idea if I abstained too.' he said.' she said quietly. I ask you again—why would I lie?' 'Revenge?' His voice was expressionless.

But she'd lied to him. Kate closed her eyes for a second. she shrugged. 'I understood. Raising her lashes.' 'No!' His eyes narrowed. so definitely that it was over. Forcing her voice into an unnatural steadiness. Why did you send someone to Christchurch to pry into my affairs?' Violence broke shockingly through the armour of his self-control as he swore. all I could think of was that making love to you had scared you.' he suggested levelly.' . 'I told you I loved you. 'You said you knew there wasn't any man. so calmly.' she added. She'd been so sorry for him. or repelled you so much you couldn't bear to be in the same room as me. those hard eyes probing. and yet his hasty departure had dimmed her trembling. 'Why the hell do you think I did? I was in love with you—I went down to Tatamoa to ask you to marry me! When you told me so easily. but I certainly accepted that your place was with your parents. made him believe this. 'Did you understand that I was going to have to work eighteen hours every day to pull Sutherland's back into shape?' She lifted her chin. With a white line around his mouth he demanded.' 'I remember. and she had to live with her lies. nascent joy. 'I didn't know it was in trouble. It took a lot of effort. her heart shaking. Remember? I rang because my father was dying—it was only a matter of time before his heart gave out. she said. that I'd wait for you.'Tell me about the man you slept with so soon after you slept with me. the day after we'd made love.' she said. and I had to go back to Auckland to be with him. his mouth twisted.

' he said.' Nausea clutched her. but Nick isn't yours. she reiterated bleakly. I couldn't leave my parents. glowed softly. Ignoring it. 'And although you seemed distant when I rang. and my father deteriorated when I did go out of town. Now he rested his hands on the back of one of the dining chairs and turned to look out over the white beach. 'I'm sorry. Why didn't you tell me you were pregnant that day in the May holidays?' 'Because it was nothing to do with you. 'Anyway. The baby wasn't—isn't— yours.' . and your letters were the sort good little girls write to their cousins. none of that matters now. Please believe me. the Kate I fell in love with. my mother had collapsed. wouldn't have slept with another man. the decisive voice so lacking in emotion that it sounded pitiless as stone. Against the wide purple sea his profile was an arrogant statement of strength. glimmering in the swift-falling dusk.' He reined in his temper. long dead. and because I couldn't be with you. It wasn't that. she snatched it back as though it had touched an invisible flame. but he saw. He hadn't sat down. because he gave her a glance in which anger and disgust were equally blended.'That's why I didn't come down to see you during that first term.' She tried to keep any note of pleading from her voice but he must have heard it.' Kate's hand went out towards him. 'Then what happened to make you change your mind? I know you loved me—you wouldn't have made love with me if you hadn't. 'Of course you had to stay with your father—and your mother.' Some frozen cinder in her heart. In an icily sardonic voice he asked. All that's important is that Nick is not your son. 'How can I? The Kate I knew. Patric. I thought it was because you were so young. I wish he was.

moving with the loose-limbed. 'Who was he? The man who raped you?' His voice was cold. She knew that she couldn't tell him the whole truth. 'He was hitch-hiking to Auckland. 'He's the son of the man who raped me a fortnight after you left Poto—a fortnight after your father's heart attack.' she said woodenly. already committed..' All lies—but her story was made more believable by the fact that the basis was true. a feral anger that lifted every hair on her skin. For several taut. 'So whose is he?' he asked roughly.' The words slid over her tongue like poisoned pebbles. speaking more easily now that she laiew he believed her. 'A week after I'd had a period. his cousin. .His face clamped into an expression of such fury that she had to stop herself from jumping to her feet and running. And then he swore. 'Nobody I knew. deadly litheness of some big predatory animal. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. charged seconds he stared at her while her pulse thundered in her ears. harsh with conviction. Only once before had she heard him speak in that tone—when Sean Cusack. so cold. and she cried out with horror as hp lifted the chair and crashed it onto the tiles. She had no desire to hear it again. bitter as rue. then set it precisely back in place and strode silently across to the window. But beneath the cold control hid raw. uncaged savagery. He looked at the maltreated chair as though it was abhorrent to him.' she said quickly. had tried to kiss her and fondle her..

then loosened.' Patric's voice was distant. then added. 'And I knew you were seeing a lot of Laura. it meant nothing. she said.In that same lethal. He turned to face her. Steadily. I was shattered—I couldn't bear the thought of any sort of intimacy. he'd find it written up in the newspapers of the time. more sophisticated and genuinely concerned. .' She hesitated. And Laura. Forgive me. her cousin's letters had been full of Patric. 'Yes. 'How did you know I was seeing Laura?' 'Do you remember my cousin Juliet? Your father gave her a job at Sutherland Aviation in Auckland. without emphasis. Patric asked.' Older.' If Patric went looking for evidence that she was telling the truth. Juliet had tried to convince Kate that. has an infinite number of facets. sweet though a summer flirtation might be. she thought bitterly. Patric's dark brows drew together in a frown. While Kate had been enduring a term of torment at university in Christchurch.' Truth. almost soundless voice. She folded them in her lap and kept them still by sheer determination. In a way it seemed meant. 'I remember. He died. 'Is that why you told me you were no longer in love with me? Becailse you were raped?' Her hands gripped the glove-soft leather of the chair. the arrogant framework of his ' face very prominent. 'What happened to him?' 'He stole a car from the Forsythes in Poto and smashed it into a bank fifty kilometres down the road. It's a common response. she begged that dead thief.

then went on. Sickened by his vengeful cruelty. Kate hadn't even been able to grieve. But then she'd been foolishly innocent. still in shock.' Sunk into a nadir of depression. because it was his cousin who'd attacked her.' She hesitated. except that he was once more fully in control of himself. 'It was my word against his. 'Did you go to the . 'Refusing to see you any more seemed the only thing to do.question told her nothing. Now she'd see him in court so fast he'd get skid marks. I knew there was no way I could—we could—' She stopped and regained control of her tumbling thoughts. she'd accepted his triumphant assessment. He was possibly a little disappointed that he didn't have a son—most men wanted one—but no doubt he was also grateful that his uncomplicated life would remain that way. his striking face revealing no emotion. 'I see.police?' he asked conversationally. And when I did realise—I was very depressed. . A thought struck her. 'And anyway.' Sean had told her that. he was dead. still trying to deny it. I didn't think anyone would believe me. Patric had been lost to her from the night she'd been raped. 'It never occurred to you to have an abortion?' 'I didn't realise I was pregnant until just before the May holidays.' More lies. She bit her lip. and the thought of telling anyone what had happened had filled her with shamed horror. she thought grimly. and she added hastily. Not now.His next .' He sounded detached and thoughtful. 'I was often irregular.

masked eyes Patric said quietly. With dark. 'They couldn't. For years she'd managed to ignore her intellectual acceptance of Nick's paternity. please?' Kate asked. picking up her spoon—steadied her. He said inflexibly. Stay and have some dinner. for a couple of years they really struggled in . 'You look exhausted. How stupid to let her heart fool her like that! Now that her delusion had been exposed to the hard light of day it had brutally turned on her. life went on.' 'I've ordered a meal.' Patric said. stiffening her shoulders against waves of tiredness. 'Eating something will make you feel better. and for once she didn't feel up to coping with him.' he said..' Kate glanced at her watch—only seven-thirty. inflicting the kind of pain she'd hoped never to suffer again. and then I'll take you back. dipping her spoon into the creamy pale green liquid. resistant part of her heart she'd always pretended he was the father of her son. 'You must have found it difficult looking after Nick on a government benefit. watching him ladle out soup. Patric. Nick would still be awake. 'Let's sit at the table. 'Did your aunt and uncle help?' The iced avocado soup was delicious..' Somehow the normal process of dining—sitting down.'Could you take me home.' Only time could do that.I'm not hungry. whatever happened. based on real chicken stock. reminded her that. Kate thought vaguely. until she'd seen Patric at the theme park she hadn't realised that in some hidden. 'I don't want. unfolding the napkin.

Oh. and I couldn't do it. 'To all intents and purposes you were alone. It would have been like giving myself away. but her hand trembled as she picked up her spoon again. She should have been reassured. . Perhaps he didn't recognise it. She shook her head. Anyway. 'Several reasons. 'When I dropped out of university—after the May holidays—I stayed in Christchurch and kept house for two dentists.Rarotonga. Before I had Nick I'd organised a flat in Whangarei.' His brows drew together in a formidable frown. They wanted me to adopt him out. 'I'd grown up in someone else's family.' 'You had him alone?' he asked. 'What was the use? It would only have made them wretched. But the main reason was that when he was born— he looked just like me. I didn't even tell them about the baby until after I had him. and saved up enough money to travel to get there.' 'Did you tell your aunt and uncle that you were attacked?' he asked. visited me.' Surprisingly. they thought I was crazy keeping him. she drank some more soup.' 'Why didn't you?' Searching for the right words. They were good to me—took me to the hospital. We arrived when he was three weeks old. but I always felt the odd person out. looking at her with glints of cold blue in his dark eyes. they tried very hard.' she said eventually. he allowed her to get away with the evasion. Who do your family think Nick's father is?' 'I've never said. I didn't want that for Nick.

' Kate opened her mouth to protest. collected the soup plates.' Kate hadn't forgotten—she doubted whether anyone ever forgot being raped—but she had long ago come to terms with it.' Her brows pleated as he got up. a disturbing note beneath the words making her look up. flowed through her with a smooth. Fresh and familiar. his well-knit body vibrated with a breath-catching male beauty. then fleetingly met eyes as opaque as polished granite and every bit as obdurate. lithe. 'I refused to make myself a victim.' 'Very wise. Kate dragged her gaze away. so I left it behind me. a salty breeze stirred the curtains. Something hidden and feline stirred inside her. Desperately. stretched languorously. trying to speak lightly.'I'm sorry. 'I'll get the second course. 'You're determined to feed me.' When the plates were empty in front of them Patric said.' he said. But there was nothing to be read in his face. Patric had opened the long doors onto a wide terrace bordered with potted palms. 'For what?' 'For—everything. 'And strong-minded. primal insistence. movement and shadows . aren't you?' she said. no emotion visible in his unwavering eyes as he finished. Through the palm fronds the sand glinted in the light of a rising moon.' 'Just sensible. Tall. 'It's the least I can do after subjecting you to such an inquisition. and walked from the table into the kitchen. Proudly she said.' Patric said unexpectedly.

voluptuous and tender. merciless. and her taste of loving had been so brief. An ache of yearning broke over her.' Patric said. glistening darkly green under a golden veil of butter. Kate soon responded to Patric's incisive comments on the latest political scandal.' 'Along witih a multitude of other things. It had been so long. white.. one who'll love Nick as much as he would a son of his own. and once this interlude with Patric is over you'll be able to settle back into it. snatched away by an act of callous violence. And that's enough of that. You have a good life. In Kate's life there was little opportunity for leisurely talk of any kind. stiffening her spine. Hastily seizing on a neutral aspect.' she said. 'I assume you still like it?' Kate looked down at racks of tiny lamb chops. of books. If you meet a man you can fall in love with. she went on. . 'I adore it. At once stimulated and wary. and small around new potatoes. 'The menu says the asparagus comes from New Zealand. she told herself. contradicting him and then enjoying the resultant sparring so much that for a precious time she forgot all that stood between them. The sound of the sea filled the room. carrying a tray to the table. intolerably shaken that he'd remembered. ideas and films.. inexorable. 'I didn't know we exported asparagus to Australia.' he said. then you might consider changing it. a honeyed hunger leaching into her endurance. a quiet thunder echoed by her heart. submerged her— sweet. long straight spears of asparagus. let alone a free-ranging analysis of world events.indicated that people were still walking along the beach.

Germans who fled the Holocaust and somehow landed up in Whangarei. He lifted his brows. sitting up straighter. 'Are you doing subjects extramurally?' he asked. Nor Nick's conversation. Anna spoils Nick and Jacob gives him a piano lesson for ten minutes every day. and very good neighbours.' she said crisply. 'Why not?' 'I don't have the money.' 'A brain as good as yours should be exercised. Kate's mouth dried. 'Anna and Jacob are in their eighties. They adore discussions on almost anything. 'Or the time. He taught him how to play the mouth organ too. 'I gather you've not finished your degree.At length. and I don't imagine that working in a dress shop in Whangarei gives you much intellectual stimulation. 'No. 'Unless you have someone else to talk to. like an offshore rip coiling under innocently smooth water. at the moment all he's doing is enjoying himself.' He paused.' She gave a quick shake of her head. he said.' she said. however charming he is.' she parried. It sounded almost like an accusation. then added coolly.' Turbulence swirled beneath the dark voice. And I have friends. adding.' 'How good is Nick?' 'On the piano?' She smiled. 'I read a lot—Whangarei has an excellent library. There are limits to a six-year-old's depth. He can play three . when they'd both eaten everything on their plates. 'Jacob says he has talent but no genius.

it was the laugh of a man who has everything in the world he wants—or who is positive of his ability to get it.tunes on the mouth organ.' 'Yes. a good Australian red. so he's now convinced he's an expert. though. and listened to bird calls.' Patric said. When Nick gets interested. soaking it up long after everyone else is bored to screaming point. Dragging her mind back from perilous memories. so that the liquid caught the light . Her gaze lingered on his hands—lean and sinewy and graceful. he demands more and more information. When he put the glass back on the table he tilted it. He'd poured wine. The young Kate had been dazzled by that confidence.. Now he drank some down. But soon he'll become absorbed in something new and it will start all over again. 'He gets fascinated by something and wants to know all about it—sort of plunges into it. and watched birds and collected their feathers and pasted them into a notebook—you name it. Low and totally self-assured.' Patric observed.' Patric laughed. she said..' 'And at the moment it's birds. Sometimes I think he's got a butterfly mind. Patric's hands had been so gentle—and then they had been harsh. perhaps because she'd always felt an outsider she'd been sure she needed accomplishments to pay her way. and she had shivered with pleasure at both the gentleness and the harshness. she thought suddenly. pouring a glass of water for her. we've done it. I'm already an expert on spiders and lizards and how mouth organs work. but had left it untouched. We've read books from the library about birds. And gentle. 'He obviously has a wide range of interests.' 'Hardly.

Do you and Nick look like him?' 'No.' Kate smiled mistily. Nick's second name was Patrick—another instance of the delusion she'd cherished. A slow shimmer of heat smouldered through Kate. his dark eyes concealed by the thick fringe of lashes.' 'She must have been a great beauty. Did she have your astonishing eyes?' An iron-grey glance lingered a second on her mouth. 'He seems to explore deeply as well as widely. The only thing that ever kept his attention was Sutherland Aviation.' 'Why was she climbing Mount Everest when she had a small child?' he asked. before it flared into wildfire.' she said carefully. And if Nick had inherited anything from 'Black Pat' Sutherland it had not descended through Patric. a kind of radiance that shone right through the camera lens and onto paper. Why did you call him Nicholas?' 'It was my father's name. . 'It will be intriguing to see what Nick grows up like. 'She had a glory about her. 'I find that hard to believe.' He lifted his brows.and flashed crimson. frowning.' He set the glass straight on the table and looked at her with half-closed eyes. Quickly. 'I'd like to have known your father. 'I don't remember her. she said. I wish I'd known her. of course— I was only three when they died—but judging by photographs she was much better looking than I am. I remember my grandmother telling me that "Black" Pat was like that. we look like my mother.

You scared me silly.' she objected. 'Well. an uncompromising jaw and the surprising beauty of his mouth. He has strong bones.'According to Aunt Jean. 'And yet you'd say that Nick is a handsome child. The light above the table played warmly across the autocratic angles and planes of his face. Both she and my father were born climbers. 'Yet I've always thought you were incredibly dangerous—even when you were fourteen—with those huge. And in the end I gave up trying to. then admitted. I don't like danger.' 'Really?' His smile was tinged with mockery. he'd probably been born sophisticated.' Patric said sardonically. my parents intended having another baby. trying to keep her head.' 'No wonder Nick likes the thrill of roller-coasters. but I'm allowed to be biased—I'm his mother. emphasising sweeping cheekbones.' 'He's a handsome boy who looks just like you. 'Although he doesn't look vulnerable. and his face revealed nothing but disciplined power.' 'I'm a very ordinary person. ^ .' He watched with heavy-lashed eyes as colour burnt through her skin. and as you grew into your beauty it became harder and harder to remember that you were six years younger than I was.' She hesitated. vulnerable eyes and that passionate mouth. 'Those genes skipped a generation. In a way it was fitting that they died there. To me he's perfect. yes.' His eyelids drooped further. and skin like pale gold silk. nor any innocence. so my mother decided to try Everest before she did. hiding his thoughts. No vulnerability there. Kate thought acidly.

she tried to control the high beating of her heart in her throat. startling her afresh with his height and the width of his shoulders. so she'd known the glory of fulfilled desire instead of being initiated into debasement. warning her that she was heading into hazardous waters. That first act of love all those years ago—and the subsequent brutal assault—had somehow frozen her responses. Sensation speared through her. it cramped her womb and tightened her skin. She felt it in her suddenly heavy breasts. clean and sharp and piercing. Except that she had never felt it for another man. 'A mango concoction. 'There's pudding. And had never wanted to. the swift clutch of desire in the pit of her stomach. the singing tide of need that surged through every cell. And instead of asking herself why. Patric got to his feet. and she was thankful that she'd made love with Patric first.' 'It sounds lovely.' he said casually. she'd gratefully accepted celibacy. and she realised that he'd been watching her through them. But until she'd seen him again and felt excitement storm through her in a wild clamour she hadn't responded physically to a man.Disconcertingly his lashes lifted. she could allow herself a few more minutes of this perilous pleasure. . While he collected the used plates and went into the kitchen. Sexual hunger was simply a matter of chemistry—inconvenient. meaning little.' Now that he knew Nick wasn't his she'd never see him again. She wasn't afraid of men.

'My compliments to the chef.' Patric promised. sliding the container in front of her.' 'I'll make sure he gets them. The pale contents of the elegant bowl were decorated with an elaborate swirl of chocolate in three shades. she wondered why she'd been content to dream the years away. It was magnificent—not too sweet. a little coaxing—she knew she'd been imagining things.' he said.' In the clipped words she heard a sudden roughness. grateful for the opportunity to ignore her thoughts. Would you like to serve me some?' She spooned the delicious stuff onto a plate and handed it to him.' Kate said on a slow sigh of pleasure when the first mouthful had eased down her appreciative throat. she thought painfully as he came back into the room. but when she looked up he smiled. not too rich—and the chocolate shavings added a luscious touch of contrast in texture and flavour. 'Eat up before it gets too warm. 'One of the local restaurants does a delivery service. and at that smile—warm. to ignore any overtures that came her way. to live a sexless life. 'Lovely. 'Where did you get such superb food?' she asked.Now. . as though he disliked the situation. Perhaps she should thank Patric for waking her again. as she heard Patric moving quietly about the kitchen. then put out a small amount for herself. 'Mango mousse.

its light washing out most of the stars. The moon had risen fully and was now a great white globe in the black sky. Then he'd held a knife to her throat. Even now. He was sunny-natured—strong-willed too. but he was learning that although loyalty to friends was a good quality. Well. she still found him sinfully. instead of the real father—a man who'd raped her because she was Patric's girlfriend. And she'd succeeded. . she had to breathe a residue of panic away and remind herself that Patric could lead his cousin to Nick. a man who'd laughed at her frantic struggles until she'd managed to deliver several blows to a vulnerable spot. Or losing herself in inchoate fantasies where he was the father of her child. lie about every sordid. she'd tried to give Nick a happy. years later. she found herself agreeing to coffee. While he prepared it she got up and walked across to the windows. threateningly attractive. because he'd hated and envied Patric all his life. When she'd decided to keep her son she'd been terrified that his father's cruelty might be hereditary.After demolishing the mousse with delicate greed. and when it was done he'd called her trash. but she wasn't going to spend the rest of her life mourning a youthful romance. Even though she hadn't loved him in the mature way that led to adult happiness. Patric had overshadowed all other men for her. that could stop right now. sympathy and understanding of those he didn't like so much was important too. and gloated that if she ever saw his cousin again he'd tell Patric he'd had her—describe how she'd moaned and twisted in his arms. Oh. with no need to express himself in aggression and malice. satisfying life. he'd blotted out the impact of any other man. horrifying detail as though she'd wanted him instead of fighting him almost to a standstill.

' She bit her lip.' 'What will you do when he begins to ask moire detailed questions?' 'I don't know.' she admitted. When he's older he might find out that—that you and I saw a lot of each other that summer. When he stood up she could see that he was angry. but could you simply say that you're not his father and that you don't know who is?' 'I could do that. 'I've told him his father is dead.He would never—never—know who his father was and what he'd done. washed over his arrogant nose and the square chin.' he said deliberately. As Patric came into the room with a tray she said. 'but that's my problem. If she had to spend the rest of her life on the run. she'd see that Sean never found out he'd fathered a child on her. 'I won't tell him you were raped.' he said steadily. 'But he's going to resent your silence. Lamplight gleamed on the blue-black depths of his hair. But to make sure of that she'd have to persuade Patric never to tell anyone he'd seen her again.' . 'Can I have your promise that what I've told you tonight won't go any further?' He bent to set the tray down on the table between the sofa and the chair. impersonal eyes. 'I'm talking about Nick.' 'All right.' he said arctically. I don't want you to lie to him. 'I don't usually break confidences. 'I'm not going to tell him who his father was or the circumstances of his conception. scanning her face with opaque.' She paused to gather strength. He might even track you down. not yours.

. trying to burnish some sort of civilised gloss on an evening that had put them both through an emotional wringer. Even when he'd been growing up Patric's face had told the world only what he'd wanted it to know. and apart from that once he hadn't drunk any of his.Stiffly Kate said. And—could you not tell anyone you've seen me? I don't want any reminders of the past cluttering up my life. glad of the excuse to walk back to the sofa and sit down. His brows knitted. Carefully she poured his coffee—black and sugarless. thank you. either.possession. then smoothed out. just as he liked it—and handed it to him. 'No. What was he thinking? It was impossible to tell. 'Thank you.' she said.' he said after a noticeable pause. They talked quietly. .' She made it a command rather than a plea. and added. she met the hard impact of his eyes with what she hoped was cool self. long legs sprawled in front of him as he drank his coffee. 'Come and pour some coffee. Would you like a brandy?' She hadn't touched the wine he'd poured for her. 'Of course. her legs felt as though the stuffing had been taken from them. Kate cast a covert glance at the man beside her.

' His voice was reflective. she said. I won't harass you. and I don't have to be back in New Zealand for another couple of days. 'Yes. 'It's all right.' .' 'Don't sound so surprised. but I would like to go forward. 'But we're two different people now. 'You can never go back.' 'I know. a voice purred. And he'd promised not to tell anyone he'd met her again. almost banishing her fears in a hot blaze of fascination.' At her hesitation he supplied drily. 'When do you really leave for New Zealand?' Shame tripped Kate's tongue. but.' He gave her a quick. Can we at least pick up the threads of our friendship?' Excitement warred with caution.' He spoke calmly. anyway. almost meditatively. but I don't want to lose sight of you again. Still. Patric didn't break promises. I did. I did too. We had fun all those years ago. 'I've almost tied up my business here.' Troubled by a shadowy foreboding.. Patric—life doesn't work that way. 'On Friday. Don't be a coward. infantile hopes and dreams you've been carrying around for so long. slicing look. 'Going back is impossible. didn't we?' 'Yes.. you enjoyed tonight—parts of it. Yet she said. Kate. What harm can it do? If nothing else it might finally end those foolish.CHAPTER FOUR ON THE way back to her apartment Patric asked.

his voice harsh. each one saturated with delight and the heady potency of first love— and the pain that had followed. . 'You never used to be superstitious.' she said quietly. lights and music a garish counterpoint to the wide.' Patric said. 'What is it?' He'd always had an uncanny way of seeing far more than she wanted him to. Her smile was tinged with bitterness. and his voice was warm as he said. She said.' Through the side window she stared at tourists laughing and playing and calling to each other in a streetscape that danced and dazzled. No doubt it came in very useful in his business life. 'Yes. honed by his brilliant brain into a weapon. 'How bad was it?' Patric asked.' He didn't touch her. Patric asked. 'I'd like that too. white beach and the limitless sea beyond the buildings and the cafes and the ubiquitous palms. now she thought it was probably an inbuilt understanding of body language. baseless apprehension whispered across her skin. 'Thank you. 'I never used to be a lot of things. rich with memories.' The unspoken past was suddenly with them.The very simplicity of his words crashed through her defences as nothing else could have. but she felt his glance.' Again that fleeting. Once she'd hoped it meant that they were psychically linked. 'Someone walked over my grave.

'And what happened to your obnoxious cousin?' 'Sean?' He said the name as though it tasted foul.' Was it her imagination.'I managed. 'Laura and I didn't have a particularly close relationship. 'It never occurred to me to contact you. 'Your wife might not have approved. or did the long fingers tense a moment on the wheel? He said remotely.' only realising when she'd said the words that she'd tried to hurt him as he'd hurt her.' Stupid to feel dismissed. but he won't be coming back to New Zealand.' Kate squelched a debilitating hope by saying.' . 'It wasn't your—' 'I'd have helped you. It was over. 'I wish I'd known.' Why tell him that the girl she'd been had died. Before he could answer. 'We don't see him any more. over and done with. I haven't spoken to him for the lasl two years. like an impertinent schoolgirl! Just as distantly Kate returned. if he'd intended to. she asked lightly. 'How are your family—your mother and your aunt?' Greatly daring.' he said roughly. that for years the only thing that had kept her going was Nick's utter dependence on her? She'd struggled free of that dreary winter of the soul. No woman should have to go through such trauma—and then bear and bring up a child—on her own. she added. I don't know where he is. and I have no intention of ever speaking to him again.

adding with a wry smile.' she said. you're welcome to come too.' Was he inviting himself along? Kate's heart jumped and she tried to ignore a slow.' 'It sounds a wonderful life. with side trips to various places. 'Why should he?' . And she no longer had to worry about Sean.' He didn't hesitate—it was impossible to think of Patric hesitating—but he paused before he said. 'Your mother?' 'She's fine.your stomach turned upside down. 'I like roller-coasters. But it wasn't pragmatism that persuaded her to say. tantalising glimpse of delight. 'Where are you planning to go tomorrow?' 'The last theme park. thank God! Banishing the wild relief from her voice. It would be perilously sweet to spend a day with him. Striving to be practical. she said.' 'She enjoys it. 'If you don't mind spending the whole day having . 'She divides her time between Europe and New Zealand now. 'More rollercoasters. especially as Nick would be the perfect buffer. white-knuckled rides on assorted torture-machines. Patric said. she realised also that if Patric came she wouldn't have to endure any more nail-biting.' 'Would Nick mind?' he asked.' Killing the engine beneath the sheltering portico at the apartment block.' His quiet laugh was suffocatingly intimate in the confines of the car. Oh.Thank God.

they still operated on primitive principles. As Kate lifted her purse from her bag. Patric handed over a banknote. and other assorted females through the ages. The babysitter looked at it. giving ground before the alpha male. They weren't rude or obnoxious. It's kids' stuff. so we'd better be there soon afterwards. And they accepted it. Nevertheless.' 'Nick's not like that. Kate thought. without saying a word.' 'It's not necessary. 'Can I drive you home?' . merely noisy and just too openly appreciative. The babysitter was waiting inside the unit. and we usually go all day.' he said. 'I haven't got change. I'll be here at a quarter to ten. 'What time will I pick you up?' 'The park opens at ten.'Some children—boys especially. When she opened the door Patric strode in behind her. waiting for the lifts were a group of young men. and got out of the car. and even more so if they haven't got a father—are inclined to be possessive of their mothers. Men.' he said. Patric made it more than clear that she was under his protection. In spite of the efforts of their mothers. obviously enjoying their first adult holiday.' He'd had no opportunity—there had never been another man. Patric nodded. She'd expected him to leave her at the main entrance. However.' 'I was a kid once. Patric. are you sure you'd like it? Nick is a tiger for punishment.

I'll just check him.' He closed her fingers over the notes in her hand. gave them both.' Awkwardly Kate closed the door behind her. noting the steady rise and fall of his chest. Something flared in the depths of his eyes. I've got my car here.Kate opened her mouth to object. sprawled out across the sheets and blanket.. Kate bent to touch his cheek. and he stirred and said in a blurry voice.. Kate. the muted light from a lamp outside kindling hidden fire in his hair. and her heart clenched with sudden. Buy Nick a souvenir or some new clothes. You wouldn't have needed her if I hadn't pressed you to go out with me. Unconsciously she passed her hand over his hair.' She glanced from one to the other. saying. She'd pay him back when the sitter had gone. 'Mummy?' . then closed it again. no problem at all.a wide smile. fishing money from her purse. thanks. Her breath died in her throat. After a moment her pulses calmed down enough for her to say numbly. 'No. He released her hand and stepped back. every cell in her body burst into clamorous life.' 'Well. 'How much was it?' she asked. and left. As his touch ricocheted through her.' The inflexible words were modified by a raw undercurrent that set her senses jangling. Patric's gunmetal gaze was impossible to read. 'He was a perfect kid. 'I don't want your money. Goodnight. 'Thank you.' He was sleeping soundly. 'Humour me. Desperately trying to recover. overpowering love. no— but.

'Goodnight. it's me. Kate headed to the front door and opened it.' she muttered. only taking one step before she collided with a solid body. It set her heart afire. redolent of his energy and dynamic power and discipline. Now.' she said. but when he reached her he stopped and smiled—a smile that stopped Kate's heart. On wobbly legs she retreated out of the room and down the lighted hallway while Patric closed the bedroom door behind him. switched off the insistent. she had to get out of there fast. roused her senses and magically. After straightening his sheet she turned away. sexual.'Yes. so evocative that it bypassed her senses and homed straight to her emotions. . but he didn't move again. it was the essence of the man who was Patric Sutherland—masculine. his keen mind and his effortless. cautious prompting of her brain. So she had to walk. 'Kate?' he asked quietly. she thought dazedly. Heat from his body—from her own—enveloped her. She'd forgotten his faint male scent. Go back to sleep. He muttered something before relapsing into slumber. Kate waited. Obeying an imperative warning. Drowning in an urgency of physical need. jerking free of Patric's swift grip on her elbows so quickly she almost tripped. stepping back. Owing nothing to aftershave.' she said softly.' His voice was cool and deep and emotionless. 'It's all right. 'Goodnight. understated authority. 'Oh!' Heat. dangerously.

and he joined Nick in teasing her because she refused to terrify herself into fits. his ability to conjure waitresses and his compelling authority—before Nick. hair like black silk dusted with fire. Afterwards. Their day at the theme park was a time of complicated. That day. Even when Nick became tired and a little grumpy his tolerance didn't waver. His smile took over her mind as she closed the door behind him and leaned back against it. and answered constant questions with faultless patience and what seemed to be true interest. and touched her mouth with a lean forefinger. beguiled .' Desire smoked through the words. Patric rode every ride with Nick. and a mouth that suggests promises I'd kill to collect on. listening to the silence of the apartment. he gave Nick his full attention. stark. unwanted tears filling her eyes as her heart thudded erratically against her breastbone. relentless. sealing her son's affection and respect. formal clothes banished for a light shirt and casual trousers.'You're even more beautiful. As she made a spirited defence Kate caught herself thinking how wonderful it would be to have someone to share the responsibility. Amusing. 'The eyes of a siren and the pride of a lioness. Nick became ari enthusiastic follower. striking features not exactly softened by his good humour. overwhelming her. protective and masterful in a low-key way.' he said. as though she'd put Patric—with his broad shoulders. stupid. Patric's hard eyes gentled when they rested on her son's face. those angular. when her son was asleep. Kate sat down on the side of her bed. It seemed shameful. And because he possessed a natural talent for leadership. reckless pleasure.

by an old. Nick had a glorious time. Although she'd known who it would be. 'I'm on my way.' he said. but it must be the parks themselves.' There was a moment's silence.. Her fingers. 'He has to.' Kate said firmly. 'Actually. 'When we were young. of course. Starting.' she said. she'd surrendered to the magic Patric had always been able to weave about her. I think so. But once they got on the plane to New Zealand it would be over. Kate stared at it before reaching out to pick it up. she noted. 'Patric. He was a busy man—far too busy to have time to spare for a woman who'd once jilted him and a boy without a father. her bones melted at the sound of Patric's voice. The telephone rang. I am. Did we ever have that much energy?' Her mouth curved spontaneously. 'I hoped you wouldn't be in bed. 'I thought it was steeling myself to go on those wretched rides that wears me out. 'He's a great kid.' .' she said. 'Oh. 'Did you have a good time too?' 'Yes. sentimental dream.' She made herself finish. keeping her voice light.' "Are you tired?' Kate seized the excuse.' 'But Nick comes first. were shaking.' 'I understand. thank you so much.' His voice altered slightly as he went on.

' 'Would Nick like to go to a lighthouse? There's a little one just over the border in New South Wales. but she didn't. wet skin against wet skin. he'd kissed her for the very first time that day. didn't we? I hope Nick thanked you. his voice indolently amused.Quiet laughter sent shivers up her spine. It had been her first experience of the merciless power of passion. How quickly he'd accustomed her to the slow. Uneasily wondering whether he was up to anything. where the waves roar in onto the rocks with a very satisfying crash and hiss of spray. gently. Of course. 'What for?' 'For letting me come with you today. almost chaste caresses that were all he'd allowed himself that summer. 'And to thank you.' A supplicant attitude was not a natural one for Patric. tenderly. 'So long ago. Kate said. Patric?' 'To say goodnight. 'I remember the day we all went to Raglan for a picnic—do you?' Her heart lurched.' he mocked. Afterwards we . 'I remember. 'Why did you ring.' he said. and she'd gone up like a skyrocket as they'd stood.' She should have left it at that. hearts beating so intensely that their subdued thunder still resounded in her ears. he'd had a very willing pupil.' 'Several times—he has excellent manners.' 'Yes. Rapidly she asked. What would you like to do tomorrow? You've run out of theme parks. that was the last today. sweet. 'We had a super time.' she said drily.

' 'Would you like it?' A little bewildered. she promised herself. That's all.could go to the top of Mount Tamborine and watch the hang-gliders take off. Kate flushed the next morning when she recalled those dreams. She wasn't in the least bit irritated that Nick thought the sun shone through those dark grey eyes. 'Yes. . of course. She turned out the light and went to sleep. she answered. Kate. 'Thank you. but there was nothing remotely sexual—or even gallant— in his attitude. And certainly not jealous. Not a bit. And it is wonderful for Nick to have a male companion like Patric. One more day. but Patric's behaviour that day reassured her. getting into bed. made love with him and lost him.' she said slowly. If only she could separate the past from the present. Because he was Patric he was sexy and wildly attractive. she told herself. but whenever he spoke in that tone—whenever he smiled at her. 'Goodnight.' He waited a second. I'll pick you up at nine. but seldom had the unadulterated attention of one for any length of time. even if it's only for a short time.' 'Right. Her son knew plenty of men. to dream of Patric. whenever his dark gaze rested on her face—she was once more the child who'd loved him. Dream of good things. then finished easily. So this was for Nick.' She murmured an answer and hung up. For which she was grateful.' 'Nick would love it.

Mummy?' Shaken. and Nick suddenly hugged them both.storeyed affair on a headland.' 'There's no beach beneath the cliffs. Can we go and see the waves now.' Patric told him. 'Look!' Nick breathed. taking a few steps towards the edge of the cliff.' Nick said loyally. . 'We look like a family. The lighthouse was glorious—a cute. 'Yes. I could play with them. and through trees they could see a long. 'I bet those people over there think we're a proper family.Not even when Nick's every second sentence began with Mr Sutherland says. Mr Sutherland. An island crouched offshore. white.' 'So did I. 'that once you get over the border into New South Wales there are no palms?' Patric laughed. If you had.' he said with satisfaction. They grinned at each other. a little in awe of the cool authority in Patric's tone. 'Yes. I'm sorry you haven't got any children. 'So we have to stand well back. 'Did you notice. two. Kate said.' Kate said. wave-pounded beach stretching to a cluster of hazy towers that denoted another seaside resort. The impact throbbed through the ground like the dynamo of some hidden power source. twining his arms around their waists. All right?' Nick nodded. They walked across the tawny grass and stood watching the rounded waves surge in and smash themselves against the rocks in a smother of spray. I'd noticed.

' 'Then why did you do it?' 'Her father was my father's greatest friend. Another breaker thudded into the black rocks. 'It never occurred to me that we wouldn't have them. 'You don't have to tell me this. What I didn't know was that both my father and Laura's were desperate for me to marry her. 'You'll be able to see the foam burst above the rocks very clearly from there. 'Laura didn't want children. 'That's a shame. Marrying Laura was the most spectacularly stupid thing I've ever done.' With his eyes fixed on the smooth.'Why don't you sit against that screw pine?' Patric suggested. Patric said. and stared with wide eyes at the waves. almost bored. leaning back against the trunk. Kate hesitated before saying. white foam against the intense ultramarine of the sea. he turned his head so that all she could see were the angles of his profile.' she said.' Kate had been sure she'd overcome her disconcerting tendency to jealousy. sending a wild fountain of spray into the air.' Obediently.' Torn between a need to know what had happened and an immense reluctance to hear anything about his marriage.' His voice was cool. but even to hear him say Laura's name ate like acid into her composure. 'It looks like it. if you wanted them.' He gave her a brief. Nick sat on the grass. 'Do you think he might have found the next big interest?' Patric asked. 'I liked her and I knew she liked me. but the note of distaste in the words chilled her. . the words pinched and abrupt. humped combers coming in. unsmiling look. and the wild outburst of spray.

the whole agricultural scene.' Kate nodded. I'd have preferred a less public place— although perhaps it's a good thing it's not. so he had the power to bring them around. After a moment Patric went on. Patric. Kate. The others trusted him. reliable. That sort of thing died with the Victorians. Laura's father was on it. 'How innocent you are. It needed radical restructuring. reflective. He only took over Sutherland Aviation because it would have broken "Black" Pat's heart to see it sold. keeping her eyes fixed on a group of girls who'd just walked by with a couple of teachers and some long-suffering parents. Aviation out of the fire? Pull the other leg.' Apparently irrelevantly he said. When I took over Sutherland's it was perilously close to going under. he was the only one who understood what I wanted to do.' 'I can understand that. conscientious managing director— but he had little understanding of business and a tendency to trust the wrong people. 'My father wanted to see me married.' His mouth thinned.'I think I do. 'Of course no one actually came out and stated it—the . settled before he died. 'You married Laura to haul Sutherland.' She said nothing.' It wasn't a compliment. and I had to work with a board my father had packed with men who were sure I was heading in the wrong direction. Patric's voice was calm. mesmerised. loved farming.' Kate said tightly. A few feet away Nick crouched. 'He loved Tatamoa. 'He wasn't a spectacular failure— he was a hard-working.

' After a taut moment he continued. couldn't do anything but fight to control my instinct to snatch you up and keep you with me until you admitted that you loved me. Bro^c} shoulders moved in the slightest of shrugs.' His words were textured . It would also help Sutherland Aviation when it became known that her father was backing me. however. so I came down to Tatamoa. I was so stunned I couldn't think. and working furiously to save several thousand jobs around the world. and help mine die in peace. supporting my mother as best I could. 'But you told me you no longer wanted anything to do with me. Not marry to order.' 'How sensible of her. so I didn't immediately take in the full implications. I was grieving for my father.' he said levelly. resolute.' Patric's laugh was low and caustic. she said. I'll agree. 'She thought it an excellent idea. She was ready to settle down.' Patric—determined.pressure was subtle. 'I married Laura because I was forced to. 'Hard to credit. but one tends to want to do what one can for one's dying father. and we knew each other well. in the scornful twist of her mouth. As soon as I realised what my father was pushing for I went to see Laura. 'I was going to ask you to marry me. and that you had another lover. strong-willed Patric— forced to do something against his will? Marry against his will? Kate's disbelief was mirrored in her face.' 'And?' She remembered how Laura used to look at him. It would make both our fathers happy. I had to see you. He answered her unspoken question.' Kate closed her eyes briefly. 'I'm afraid I offended her with my reaction.

While I was there my father had to be rushed into hospital—it was touch and go for thirtysix hours. and then I flew down to Christchurch to find you. who'd always wanted a big family. when he was well enough to come home. It was easier to bear than the pain in her heart. 'About ten minutes after I got back to Auckland from Poto still in shock because you'd said you didn't want anything more . but you'd already left the university and disappeared. She said she'd decided to inform our parents that she was pregnant to me.' 'He was sacked. 'Was she pregnant?' 'No. 'I was told your uncle had resigned. Another wave crashed onto the black rocks. so I thought I'd give you until the end of the year.' she said. She knew what that would do to my parents—especially my father.' . and if she had been it wouldn't have been mine. We had an argument. I told her to keep away from my parents. If that didn't persuade me to marry her.' In the pockets of her jeans Kate's hands clenched so tightly she could feel the pain in her knuckles. thin-lipped. she'd tell them she was going to have an abortion. 'My fury and panic frightened me and shocked me. Laura rang. I hated losing control.' 'They were given a handsome payment and a week to get off the place. Patric's striking buccaneer's face hardened. its impact reverberating through the ground as foam soared high into the air. But they'd gone too. I rang your aunt and uncle. A week later.to do with me.by self-contempt. We'd never slept together.

He swore beneath his breath, his voice flat and lethal. 'My father wasn't the businessman that "Black" Pat was, but he could be every bit as ruthless. That was when Laura's father told me he'd see Sutherland Aviation go down if I didn't marry her. She stayed away from my parents, but she'd convinced him that she was pregnant with my child.' 'What did your mother think of all this?' It hurt that Mrs Sutherland, whom Kate had always liked, should have allowed her son to be blackmailed into marriage. 'She wasn't happy, but I suspect she had a desperate hope that a grandchild might give my father an extra reason to live.' He was hating this, and so was Kate. Long-dormant emotions churned through her, setting fire to her temper like sparks in the wind. How could his parents have used his love and respect to force him into a marriage he didn't want? Watching her son, Kate said in a low, furious voice, 'They should be ashamed of themselves, all of them.' 'Laura's father lost his daughter,' Patric said unemotionally. 'My father died, leaving my mother a widow. Laura died. I think they all paid, don't you?' 'What about you?' she asked passionately. 'They betrayed you.' 'After you told me you didn't want to see me any more and then , disappeared I no longer cared much,' he said smoothly. 'I knew what the crash of Sutherland Aviation would do to my father, and to the people who were working for it.' Guilt reined in her anger. 'Their pressure must have been almost unbearable. And you loved your father.'

'Oh, yes,' he said with remote precision. 'At least he was dead before it came totally unstuck. Laura wanted a playmate, and what she got was a man driven to work day and night to rescue what I could from the wreckage my father had inadvertently left. 'She waited until after my father died to announce that she'd had a miscarriage.' He swung around and directed an oblique, unreadable glance at her. 'So that's the sad story of my marriage,' he said, bare steel ringing through each word. 'Two years later Laura drank too much one night when I was overseas and went for a swim. She drowned.' Nobody deserved to die like that, but Laura had certainly asked for unhappiness. 'I'm sorry,' Kate said, meaning it. 'I wonder why we have to make decisions when we're in the worst possible state to see clearly.' 'To test us, perhaps.' He looked down at Nick, who was utterly absorbed in watching the waves come in. 'Seen enough?' 'He won't hear you—he's lost in wonder.' Kate took the few steps to the screw pine and bent down. 'Come on, Nick, it's time to go.' 'Oh.' He scrambled up, his face radiant. 'Mummy, where do the waves come from? How do they build up? Why do they get white tops on them? Is it steam?' 'No, it's foam, and we'll look up the answers to your other questions when we get back home,' Kate said, smiling as the wind tossed her hair about her face. Patric's story had affected her profoundly but she couldn't deal with it now. He said, 'It looks like you have another project on your hands.' 'Are we going for a swim off that beach?' Nick asked.

'It's too rough,' Kate said firmly. 'We'll wait until we get back to the apartments. However, Mr Sutherland says he knows where there are some hang-gliders.' They spent the afternoon on top of Mount Tamborine, watching hang-gliders launch themselves and soar across a valley the colour of light toast. Kate, a sensible distance back from the low wall that marked the drop-off, watched closely as Patric took Nick's hand and walked over to the low barrier. After a few moments she relaxed; Patric was well able to curb her son's natural desire to get too close to the cliff-edge. She allowed herself to take in the glorious gold of the valley below the cliff, the dim blue outline of the Great Dividing Range .to the west, and the scent of Australia— dry, exciting, tinged with eucalyptus and smoke. Nick, small hand lost in Patric's, hopped with eagerness, his voice rising and falling as questions bubbled from him. Patric answered them all. After that they had a drink at a cafe and drove down the winding, steep highway to the Gold Coast. 'We're going home tomorrow,' Nick said from the back. 'A part of our prize is a shuttle. It's just a bus, but it brought us down from the airport and tomorrow it will take us back. We have to be ready at three in the afternoon.' 'What time do you fly out?' Patric asked. 'Qantas leaves at exactly six o'clock.' Nick sighed, then cheered up. 'But we get back to New Zealand in the middle of the night.' Patric nodded. 'Where are you staying in Auckland?'

'With a friend who lives in Albany,' Kate said. 'She's coming to meet us at the airport.' 'And the next day we're going on the bus to Whangarei,' Nick said importantly. Patric glanced at Kate. 'I thought you had a car?' 'Not one I'd trust to get me to Auckland and back,' she said crisply. 'We've got an old banger,' Nick informed him with relish. 'It's called Eugene.' 'I remember—a Mini. Why Eugene?' Kate said, 'That's what its previous owner called it.' 'Once it broke down,' Nick said. 'The radiator cracked and we had to walk everywhere 'til we could save up enough to get it fixed.' Patric's beautiful mouth tightened fractionally. 'Then you were wise to take the bus to Auckland,' he said. Feeling like a poor relation, Kate nodded and stared out of the window. Nick asked, 'When are you going back, Mr Sutherland?' 'Tomorrow too,' he said, 'But not on your plane.' At the apartments he parked the car in the visitor's slot and said curtly, 'Invite me in, Kate.' Her hands twisted in her lap. 'I don't think that would be a very good idea,' she said, when the silence had gone on too long.

Of course Nick demanded that he stay. 'I haven't got any togs with me. 'I'd like to see how well Nick can swim. watching Nick's black head and tanned body. wondering whether that meant he wanted to see more of Nick.' 'Using Nick like that was unfair.' 'Good. 'I can't. Kate thought resentfully. All right. and you know it. what would she say? No. while he showed off his prowess. and tomorrow morning we're going to buy clothes. I'll watch you swim.' Nick didn't need to look quite so disappointed. I have to pack. his voice betraying that he knew he was putting her in a difficult situation. It's cruel to play with children's emotions.' .' he said. She shook her head.He switched the engine off. Kate gave in. it would be too dangerous. 'You swim too. Kate.' he said indolently. If he did. she thought swiftly. 'I hadn't thought of it like that. 'Don't be angry. although she was ruffled by Patric's tactics. He shook his head. 'Come out to dinner with me tonight. before temptation set in. Patric said.' He frowned. As they sat on the edge of the pool. I won't do it again.' she said curtly.' Nick commanded. sleek as a seal.

. so why did the word echo through her soul with such cold.' Contempt crackled through his voice.' Complaining. 'your chin's starting to wobble.His expression didn't change.' 'Now who's using him?' Patric demanded through his teeth.' She knew it had to be said. And I don't use him.Before Kate realised what was happening he bent and took her mouth in a kiss that seared her heart. if you'd feel safer?' Kate leaned over and called Nick. . Leashing his temper. What's so sensible about denying yourself a good meal—at a restaurant. she said. 'Say goodbye to Mr Sutherland. 'Yes.' she said. 'Because I won't go out to dinner with you? Hardly cowardice. 'Your eyes go green as grass when you're angry.' He held out a slim tanned hand and said his farewells. 'Come on out. dripping. Nick. Politely. 'So this is goodbye. Her own temper fired. Kate said easily. 'Nick's getting cold. Patric shook his hand and said goodbye. Good—he'd lost his temper too. Patric! Just common sense. Nick dragged himself reluctantly up the steps and stood by them as they got to their feet. he's the most important person—the most important thing—in the world to me.' He drawled. Her body sprang to life.' he said coolly. Still buoyed by anger. Kate kept her eyes on Nick's burnished head. implacable finality? 'You're a coward. but black lashes drooped over eyes the colour of polished iron. as though she'd been waiting all these years for that kiss.

'When your bed feels empty at night. 'Remember that. periodically looking above his head at the hot.' And he turned on his heel and walked away. 'Where's my towel?' 'Behind you. unable to think. 'He was saying goodbye. disgruntled. savage voice. when all the time she felt as though Patric had branded her with that kiss. unable to speak. They'd spent the morning shopping for clothes and presents—including a weather station Nick fell in love with and refused to be parted from—and now they were all packed and ready to go. unable to do anything but react. to behave normally. and after glancing at her watch checked for the third time that their passports were in the pocket in her bag. time to go. 'Come on. she organised them competently off the . to go with him into the apartment. Nick.' Nick said. 'Why did he do that?' Running her tongue over her tender hps.' he said in a low.' The hour-long trip up the motorway and across the huge bridge over the Brisbane River assumed a dream-like aspect Kate answered Nick's questions. Kate made one last round of the rooms. in case they'd overlooked anything. 'Mummy!' Nick tugged at her hand and demanded indignantly. It was over.When he lifted his head she stared into molten eyes.' Kate forced herself to speak calmly. she said huskily. sparse landscape outside.' 'He didn't kiss me goodbye. Sleeping Beauty.

' 'How's that?' Kate asked. I'd just enjoy it if I were you.' After watching their cases disappearing down the conveyer belt.' she said lightly. smiling. Nick insisted on a complete tour of the light. Making herself relax.' she said. he said. doesn't he?' 'Yes. When Nick had half drained his glass. 'I don't think he'll have time to do that. 'Ah. 'You'll have a more comfortable ride back. "The plane's not very full tonight so they've put some lucky people up.bus. after a quick glance at their passports. 'It happens. frowning. 'Thank you. she tried to enter into his enthusiasm. tree-shaded concourse. and succeeded well enough until eventually they sat down in one of the cafes for a drink. Nick. The clerk looked again at her computer screen.' 'We'll do that. For once Kate found his comments and observations tiring.' Kate said with a smile. 'Mr Sutherland lives in Auckland.' . you've both been upgraded. Nick poked his straw into the ice at the bottom of his glass. airy. 'Will he come up to see us in Whangarei?' You too? she thought painfully. and steered the luggage trolley across the wide terminal to check in. accepting the boarding passes. so she smiled. waiting while the clerk tapped information into her computer.' Kate knew she sounded abrupt.

. glancing at her pass. 'but this screen seems to tell me I shouldn't go through. Before long their flight number was called.' The attendant examined the passes. It might even happen for her too.' she said. He didn't look at her as he said in a gruff voice. and with the swiftness of childhood Nick forgot that he was sad and began to enthuse again. 'I think I need to go further on. 'But you had a good time here. of the things Anna and Jacob next door would find particularly interesting. 'I liked it better when Mr Sutherland was with us.' Kate began to talk of school. 'Up the front.Nick prodded some more. Kate knew there'd be moments of wistfulness whenever he remembered Patric.' He drew a complicated pattern on the surface of the water with his straw. 'Won't we ever see him again?' 'He's a very busy man. of what Nick would be able to tell his classmates about his holiday.' the steward on the plane said. although eventually even they would fade until he only recalled the pleasure.' She walked up through the throngs of passengers. 'On the right. Listening to him remind himself of the thrill of one particular rollercoaster. smiling professionally as Kate showed him the boarding passes. then stopped. 'May I help?' An attendant appeared from nowhere. 'Keep going. madam. didn't you?' 'Yes.' Kate said.' Kate said gently. his long lashes dark against his golden skin.

This. but of course Patric's black head wasn't anywhere there.Waiting by the screen was another attendant. 'Ah. dark.' she corrected. we were wondering where you were. first class was. of course.' 'May I?' Nick repeated. He'd kissed her because he was angry.' Nick said gravely. as dignified as a head waiter. stopping. "This way. 'Would you like to sit next to the window. and to Nick's delight each had a small television screen mounted in the arm. sir?' 'My name's Nick. scrambling into his seat with alacrity. 'Can I sit next to the window.suited.' the steward said. Just before she sat down she cast a glance around the rest of the section. but once he'd discovered that Nick wasn't his son his pressing interest must have died. but by now he'd probably put them out of his mind. hardened businessman facade. Mummy?' 'May I. smiling at Nick.' Here the seats were large. was how Patric travelled all the time.' he said. 'Yes. . Did ordinary travellers routinely get bumped up to first class? 'Here we are. she thought as she clipped the seatbelt around her. And in spite of the desk clerk's comment that the plane wasn't full. his kindness might indicate a streak of chivalry beneath the tough. And of course he wouldn't have organised it—why should he? She had no illusions. who was looking about him with frank and obvious interest.

She was every bit as susceptible to Patric as she had been all those years ago. . And beneath that smouldered an indefinable magnetism that called to her with a sensual promise against which she had no defence. and they were pampered all the way across the Tasman. part controlled determination. Unfortunately her response to that kiss revealed a much more unpalatable truth. a feeling that all the ends had been tied up and she could now face the future unimpeded by baggage from the past. part intelligence. Kate tried to convince herself that those days in Surfers' Paradise had provided her with some sort of closure.As the plane took off. The golden glamour of his youth had been replaced by a potent male charisma. part dynamic power.

'Darling. Nick. complaining while they waited for their luggage to emerge on the carousel. with her shock of vivid red hair. just occasionally it would be wonderful to have a strong-armed man to heft luggage about. should have stood out like a bonfire on a dark night.CHAPTER FIVE THEY landed on an Auckland spring night—wet. Of course they had to wait in the Immigration and Customs hall. didn't take too kindly to being wakened.. she saw.' 'It won't be long now.. Then at last they were through and walking into the Arrivals area. He gave her a belligerent glower. Patric would have been on it. also from Brisbane. of course. she concentrated on shuffling towards the desks. and chilly after the burgeoning warmth of sub-tropical Australia. he trailed alongside Kate. Thankfully Nick had forgotten his crossness in the excitement of watching a little sniffer dog bustling around. a Sutherland Aviation jet. . Ruthlessly wrenching her mind back from that dangerous path. who'd slept most of the way across. 'My eyes feel sticky. His normal sunny temperament in abeyance.' Kate finally said. Just hang on in there.' As she heaved their cases off the carousel and stacked them on the trolley Kate thought wryly that although it was politically incorrect to like being cared for. No doubt if she'd been there she would have. Sally Pickering. that's enough. two other planes had arrived just before them—one.

there's Mr Sutherland! He'll find Sally for us!' 'Don't shout!' But Kate's heart clamoured in her breast.' Kate returned in her briskest tone. 'Has she forgotten us?' he asked soberly. slim shoulder. Ignoring the intrigued and speculative stares from the two people who'd met Patric—and every woman within eyesight—Kate went on. who stopped and waited as he headed purposefully towards Kate and Nick. Nick?' 'Cool.' he agreed. Patric. thank you.'You can sit down here and look after our suitcases while I go to the desk and see if she's left a message. His brows drew together and he turned back to speak to the other two. She'll have—' 'Mr Sutherland!' he exclaimed. 'Good flight?' he asked. as though he'd never kissed her.' Kate said firmly. didn't we. his tired face split by a smile. Patric swung around. 'We were upgraded to first class and had a wonderful time. Nick's lip wobbled. She followed Nick's gaze and saw Patric striding across the concourse. his face lighting up. 'Look. 'Not Sally. 'We won't keep you.' . wheeling their trolley towards a bank of seats. accompanied by a man wearing the sort of clothes you'd choose to impress the boss late at night. a jacket slung across one elegant. gazing worshipfully at Patric. and a woman in tailored trousers and a silk shirt. 'Great. Thank you for making our last few days in Australia such fun.

' he said negligently. 'I had fun too. 'Stay there.' As though her words had summoned it. you've got people—' 'They'll wait. And if she can't make it she'll have left a message for us. he said. It might have been his height or those wide shoulders. prone to breakdowns?' Kate put her hand on her son's shoulder. I'll go. holding him steady. 'She's not here yet.The arrogant mouth didn't soften. she handed over the passport and watched him make his way through the press of people to the Information Desk. 'Where's the friend who was going to meet "you?' Thwarted in her attempt to make a dignified and final goodbye. holding out his hand. and Kate smiled but said. 'Would Ms Brown— Ms Kate Brown—please come to the Information Desk. a pleasant female voice said over the intercom.' he said. is Sally. 'I don't think they'll believe I'm Ms Kate Brown. didn't . His casual clothes.' The previous sleepless night must have clouded her brain. 'Or is it like Eugene. because. 'It's reliable too. Kate admitted. 'Patric. 'I won't be a moment. She's just running a little late. although tailored to lit him. lost in an enormous yawn.' Nick gave a crow of laughter. Give me your passport.' Patric said abruptly. But she won't be long—she's very reliable. 'How about her car?' Patric asked after a grim glance at the boy. but it was more probably the aura of dynamic power that had them parting before him like the waters before Moses.' When she stared at him.' Nick sagged against her.

and anyway. The girl on the Information Desk cheered up when Patric arrived. and disappeared through the doors into the night. . With another dazzled smile the woman handed over an envelope. she hoped. If Sally had been called away she and Nick would have to spend the rest of the night at the airport. but it was amazing how many eyes followed his progress. Kate gave a wave that indicated. Damn. and she wasn't going to hock herself to her credit card. Kate thought. Every cent of holiday money was gone. Nick gazed silently after his hero. He spoke. were enveloped in greetings.. because she didn't have enough money to pay for a motel. bestowing on him a smile that went well beyond professional goodwill. Sally was devoted to her grandmother. lax. The hasty scrawl tailed off into an indecipherable signature.' Patric told her as he handed the envelope over. that she was Kate Brown. she nodded. Warm. More passengers emerged from the Arrivals Hall.. Repressing a stark pang of isolation. Kate looped her arm around her son. why hadn't she left a key to her house? And immediately she felt mean and selfish. then peered at Kate's passport and looked across. Kate's fingers shook as she slit it open. Sally's grandmother in Wellington had had a heart attack and wasn't expected to last the night. shuttles didn't go out as far as Albany.mark him out from the other men there. 'She rang it in about three hours ago. so Sally was driving down with her brother. Kate braced herself. his eyes heavy with interrupted sleep. She was so sorry.

well. Calmly he said.' Patric said deliberately. 'You can come home with me. visibly drooping. I mean?' The decision was made by Patric. I promise you I can deal with—' 'I'm sure you can. 'You're very kind. please?' Nick asked. . In her crispest.' Tempted. a night at die airport wasn't going to mark her or Nick for life! 'What's happened?' Patric asked. 'May we. divining her reservation with an accuracy that sent heat licking across her skin. but of course we can't plonk ourselves onto you like this.' He cut off her instant rejection. who took the handle of the luggage cart and headed into the press of people. as though he had the right to. He looked down at Nick.Oh.' Nick gave a prodigious yawn. 'Nick and I will manage. she ploughed on. 'Can we. 'But why bother when you don't need to? I live in an apartment block on the waterfront—all you'll need to do in the morning is take the lift down and walk just over a block to the bus depot. his voice rough with exhaustion.' he interrupted. 'You and Nick can sleep in the guest bedroom. 'What time do you catch your bus tomorrow morning?' 'It leaves Auckland at eight-thirty. impatience threading the words. In response Kate straightened her shoulders and tilted her chin. 'What will you do?' Kate said confidently. most confident voice she told him.' Patric's eyes narrowed as he surveyed her face. Patric.

she thought crossly. Kate thought angrily. Interesting.' 'You were going to dither. As Patric had known she would. He stopped by the two people he'd abandoned. 'Talk about high-handed. gave the driver the address and got in himself.' 'I don't like being bulldozed.' he said levelly. but when they stepped out into the cold darkness and she felt the rain on her face and Nick's hand suddenly cling to hers she admitted defeat. then wheeled it through the doors. As she and Nick came up to them he said. 'I'll see you at nine tomorrow morning.' Kate began. to see their instant attention.' . Kate—you can shout at me when we don't have an audience. Goodnight. following him as he picked up his suitcase and settled it onto the trolley. made brief farewells and left. scooping Nick along with her as she set off after Patric's arrogant figure. She'd meant to tell him he was overbearing and autocratic. 'Patric.'Hey!' Kate exclaimed. But what harm could a night do? Patric commandeered a taxi and put them into it. and insist on managing her own affairs. already regretting it. and you know it. Two heads nodded while he spoke with curt rapidity.' Again they nodded. helping Nick put on his seatbelt. Give it a rest.' 'No one does. Kate fumed. smiled at Kate and Nick. 'This is the most sensible way of dealing with the situation.

While Patric and the driver organised the luggage she got out of the vehicle and reached for Nick. looking down into her son's blissfully unconscious face with a pang as she handed him over. Tensely Kate cuddled him. but only five minutes into the trip he relaxed sideways onto Kate.' 'He's too heavy. feverish precision along her nerves.' he commanded. He was sound asleep so she had to pick him up. The holiday was over. Nick?' 'Yes. Slowing. waiting for Patric to speak. The taxi drove steadily through rain. . but staggered as she straightened up. she thought gloomily.Nick was sitting very quietly—too quietly. In fact. Hand him over—you won't be able to carry him all the way up. 'It's all right. Kate said. 'Give him to me. Shamefacedly Kate said.' Reluctantly she accepted his help. some transient emotion glittered in the dark eyes. excitement sizzled with delicate. . long needles of it flashing towards the windscreen like darts until the taxi swung off the motorway into the streets of the inner city. it's rather fun being in a taxi whizzing through Auckland in the middle of the night.' His voice was uncertain. inviting two strays home for the night. Welcome to spring. Kate thought as the engine died. abandoning himself again to sleep. striding around the end of the cab. yet she didn't feel depressed. She managed to get him into her arms. well. 'Ah. He was probably thinking he'd gone crazy. isn't it. the taxi turned beneath a portico. Patric looked up.

Shivering in the raw air.' Kate used the key card again. 'My front door.'What's the matter?' Patric asked. 'Your bedroom's the third door to the right.' Lifting Nick's case.lights. Kate walked slightly ahead so that she could push the door open and switch the lights on in the bedroom. 'The key card's in my right. 'It doesn't look as though anything disturbs him. a suitcase in each hand. then did the same with an interior door. .' The few conventional words sounded like a condemnation. 'The light switch is inside on the left.' Patric told her. pushed the door open and turned on the . but as he was striding away from her towards the door she might have misheard him. Kate followed him. She put it into the lock. The taxi driver.' he said when the lift stopped to reveal just one door in a carpeted vestibule. Kate inserted her hand into his pocket and found the card. Kate stood with her eyes averted from the man who held her son so carefully in his arms. An abstract painting in moody blues and golds smouldered against pale walls. and a superb plant stood in an elegant oriental pot.' Patric said. discreetly luxurious and very fast lift took them all up. A smooth. 'The same key. will you?' Carefully. followed them in.' 'No.' 'He's growing up. complete with mirror above a modern Italian-style console table in polished dark wood. holding the boy easily. Get it out and unlock the door. When he stopped he said.hand jacket pocket. They revealed a hall. 'It's silly—but I've always been able to carry him before.

'Usually.' Nodding.Lamps flowered in the ceiling and on either side of two large single beds. Brushing aside their inchoate warnings. his pride and joy. 'I'll pay the cab driver and bring in your luggage. Kate smoothed a lock of hair from his brow and kissed his cheek. The bathroom is through that door— you'll find towels in the cupboard beside the hand basin. 'The beds are already made up. He's extra tired tonight. 'Thank you. setting down Kate's suitcase. picking out with loving intensity the stark planes and angles of his face.' Golden light from the bedside lamps gleamed on Patric's black head.' he said. She was easing his jeans down his legs when Patric spoke from the door. I'll go down and bring back my case. and stood for a moment looking down at the sleeping child. Chilled. of course. or something to eat?' . Kate held out the key. Was he regretting that Nick wasn't his son? When he looked up and saw Kate watching him his mouth tightened. pulled back the bedcover and inserted him between the sheets. Patric laid Nick down on one of them. oppressed by the ghosts of dead emotions. who had returned by then. rolled him over. Kate deftly removed Nick's shirt.new sneakers. she began to untie Nick's brand.' she said to Patric. 'Thank you. apart from hunching away from the light. 'Do you want a drink.' In spite of the warmth of the room she shivered again. the slightly darker bronze of his five-o'clock shadow as he said. his expression guarded. 'Does he always sleep so soundly?' he asked quietly. He mumbled something but didn't stir.

'Goodnight.' he said.' she said. wondering at first because the steam hadn't clouded it with moisture. Patric. He would grow up respecting women. Kate looked at her son. and the old turmoil of regret and bitterness and love welled up. After she'd worked out how the space-age controls functioned she had a splendid shower. and although his voice was gentle there was a metallic light in the eyes that scrutinised her face. turning to smile uncertainly at him. And Patric had no place in their lives. but it was gloriously plush.' 'What time do you want to be woken?' 'I'll set my alarm for seven. Nick was nothing like his father. Kate. I think I'll go straight to bed. No. 'Then goodnight. When the door closed silently behind him her breath sighed out between her lips.' He stood like a sentinel in the doorway. Grim-faced. thank you. She had to swallow. The bathroom that led off the bedroom was all marble. . and even then her voice was croaky with strain. she'd made her decisions and she'd stick with them. Patric. opened it and took out her sponge bag and T-shirt. liking them too much to believe that they were all whores at heart. While drying herself she looked at her reflection in the huge mirror. in soft creams and rosy pinks. How much had it cost? More than her entire income for a year.She shook her head. she thought cynically. still peacefully sleeping. Kate knelt by her suitcase. the hard face formidable. 'No. 'This is very kind of you.' she said. best not to think of it.

she wondered whether forgetting him was going to be so easy. She'd made more than enough mistakes where he was concerned. and as she didn't seem able to learn from the past it was just as well she wouldn't be seeing him again.. Was Patric just through the wall? An unbidden tide of erotic anticipation swamped her as she pictured him.boned arms and legs. the long. more comfortable than any she'd ever slept in.How had they done that? No doubt it needed expensive equipment. Coming here had been a mistake. Restlessly she turned over onto her back.. Perhaps she should also consider the fact that a traitor was at work inside her—the adolescent passion that had never died. The reason her fixation still existed was probably because she and Patric had only made love once before her blossoming sensuality had been shattered by the nightmare experience of rape and brutality. as had letting Patric spend time with them in Australia. recalling the revealingly envious. just to look at yourself. unspoken accolades of other women. she thought acidly. the flat stomach and narrow male hips. a lamp illuminating with excruciating accuracy the smooth olive skin. so assured—to her and every other woman. That wide expanse of fog-free glass seemed to epitomise the enormous difference between her and Patric. He'd always been beautiful to her. It didn't seem worth it. long and lean and tanned. and listened to the muted sounds of traffic and Nick's occasional little snuffle. sable hair on a white pillow. . so strong and confident in his masculinity. But when she lay in the luxurious bed.

It hadn't. I'll ring the taxi company. still fully clothed. Frowning. her brain suddenly said.' . 'What's the matter?' She whirled. He'd be desolate if it was lost. At the front door she switched on the light. Feeling crucially underdressed in her T-shirt nightgown. Patric stood watching her. Kate explained. Moving silently. he looked infinitely more unapproachable in them than he had before. and I didn't bring it in. turning onto her side to woo sleep with desperate fervour. although he'd changed. Paradoxically. she'd have remembered the distinctive bag Nick had carried onto the plane and insisted on having under his seat all the way across the Tasman. She had almost made it when she snapped awake again. she got up and slipped out of the bedroom. but no plastic bag stood there. down the tiled hall. His frown deepened.Perhaps. Forget you ever thought that. He now wore jeans and a cotton shirt. She recalled Patric handing it to Nick when they'd got into the back seat of the taxi. Kate commanded. you should have an affair with him and get him out of your system. Perhaps it had been left at the front entrance. she tried to recall its arrival in the apartment. its warmth telling her there was underfloor heating. remembering the plastic bag with Nick's treasured weather station in it. 'I don't remember seeing it. she hadn't thought of it when she'd picked him up.

Because it seemed rude not to. There was no reason to feel so exposed. because her nightgown covered her thighs and shoulders quite adequately. 'Were you working?' she asked blankly. refusing to be intimidated. trying to sound perfectly normal—as though they had never exchanged that last searing kiss. Yet even her bare feet felt vaguely provocative. she followed him into what was clearly an office.Although his eyes hadn't strayed from her face. the length of her legs and on further.' he said conversationally. that's a good idea. He didn't take his eyes off her while he put the receiver down. I'm reporting something left in one of your cabs. his eyes travelling in a leisurely inspection from her toes. He was watching her while he spoke. buried in the rug. Which was stupid.' . but she held his gaze. before eight o'clock. 'I see. 'Yes. Kate looked up.' Alerted by a note in his voice. Heat burned through her skin. 'Thank you. finally coming to rest on her face. 'The cab driver has already handed it in. 'Someone will deliver it before eight tomorrow morning.' Rate stood while he concisely told the operator what had happened. A huge rug kept her feet pleasantly warm. He picked up. Yes.' Patric said. a large room with a huge desk and some sophisticated computer equipment gleaming and humming and blinking at her. Hello. "Thank you. she wanted to go back into the bedroom and close the door on him and hide.' she said.a telephone and dialled.

' 'I didn't think you were. Kate?' She dragged in a shuddering breath. held it in his hand and warmed it with his lifeblood.' she said. sifting it. 'Have you forgotten. her eyes dark and turbulent as she fought for control. . and turned to flee without thought for dignity. realising that he'd misunderstood her reaction. threading his fingers through the silken tangle. 'Is this how you've lived since Nick's birth—like a coward. 'Kate?' He said her name as though it was a rare jewel.' 'No. I'm not going to attack you. the unbearable expectation made her flinch. as though he treasured it. Bitingly he asked. 'Why?' she asked huskily. 'I have not lived like that!' She pivoted. but her skin warned her.' she said angrily. In a voice chilled by contempt.'Thank you very much. 'It's all right.' He moved silently. that's all. I thought you had more guts. 'No. When he lifted her hair from the back of her neck. retreating into the tight little community of two you've made with your son? I'm surprised.' she gabbled. She froze. letting it fall back against her sensitive skin. refusing every challenge. 'I—I'm not used to this. he said. Kate. I remember.' After a moment of silence he stepped back. 'What?' 'Do you remember the night we made love?' Her head jerked as though he'd hit her.

Patric smiled cynically. 'It's safe, I suppose—until Nick wants to leave home. What will happen then?' Between her teeth she said, 'He'll go with my blessing.' 'I doubt it,' he said unforgivably. 'Not if he's the focus of your universe.' He sounded bored and indifferent. 'You look tired. Go back to bed, Kate.' Furious and bewildered, her stomach churning, she walked out of his office and into her bedroom. He wanted her; she knew he wanted her. And if she could have taken easy, uncomplicated pleasure in his body she'd have gone to bed with him. But she couldn't. While she'd stood there, made captive by his hard grey eyes, she'd been stormed by a discovery that shattered the brittle armour of her composure. Its shards splintered her soul, cutting away the past years, revealing her emotions in naked, shuddering urgency. She'd been so sure of her independence, her autonomy; now she knew that somehow she was still tied to him by bonds that had never loosened. She might no longer love Patric, but she was acutely, primally aware of him with a cell-deep intensity. Once she'd read that women never forget, never become entirely free of the men they lose their virginity to. She'd scoffed, but now she wondered whether some elemental linkage did shackle a woman to the man who'd initiated her into the pleasure of the senses.

'Mummy! Mummy, wake up! Mr Sutherland's here and he says you should get up!' Kate lifted a reluctant eyelid and glared at her son. 'What?'

Patric's voice, smooth and amused, snapped her eyes wide open. 'You forgot to set your alarm. It's a quarter past seven, so if your bus leaves at eight-thirty you should probably get up now.' 'I'll be right out,' she mumbled, forcing the miasma of too little sleep too late from her brain. 'You're not running late yet. I'll give Nick some breakfast.' She lifted her face an inch from the pillow. Nick had dressed himself in one of the new shirts and the jeans she'd bought, and judging by his wet forelock and virtuous smile he'd washed his face. 'Thank you,' she muttered. At least she'd had the sense to stay prone, so Patric wouldn't see her with her hair all over her face and her eyes full of sleep. The instant the door closed behind them she leapt out of bed, thanking heaven that she wasn't one of those unfortunate people who found waking up seriously difficult. Fifteen minutes later, showered and dressed, her armour of composure buckled and fastened, she followed the sound of voices to find Patric and Nick in a sophisticated kitchen and family room. Nick had seated himself at the table and was draining a glass of orange juice as Patric set a plate before him and said, 'See how you like that muesli.' Although she sensed a taut impatience in the. dark, penetrating eyes, he smiled at Kate as though nothing had happened in his office the previous night. Nothing had. She didn't want any sort of relationship with Patric. It was too dangerous.

Acutely self-conscious, she bent to kiss Nick's forehead and said, 'He likes most mueslis.' 'But we make our own, with rolled oats and yoghurt and apples from our apple tree,' Nick said cheerfully, returning her kiss with a hug. 'I like that best. Mum, I s'pose our lettuces and cabbages are going to be ready now, do you think?' Kate straightened. 'Yes, although I told the MacArthurs to use any that looked as though they should be eaten.' He nodded and picked up his spoon while Patric asked, 'The MacArthurs are the parents of Nick's best friend?' Did he ever forget anything? His level scrutiny made Kate very thankful she'd succumbed to vanity and worn her best pair of trousers and a shirt, both the smoky dark green that enhanced her green-blue eyes. Slipping into the chair he pulled out for her, she said, 'Yes, they're Rangi's parents.' 'I haven't got a real aunt, but Aunty Ngaire is my pre- tend one,' Nick said. 'Rangi's in my class at school—he's my best friend and my pretend cousin.' 'Rangi's the youngest of four brothers, so Ngaire's an old hand at parenting. She and Rangi steered us through play school and kindergarten,' Kate said prosaically, accepting a glass of juice from Patric. It was superb, freshly squeezed and tasty. 'Mmm, delectable,' she breathed after the first delicious, sweetly tart sip. 'I'll bet those oranges came from Kerikeri.' 'I have a friend with an orchard there who ships me down the occasional bag. What would you like to eat? I can cook you something—or there's porridge?'

He sounded just like a good host, so she endeavoured to be the perfect guest. 'It sounds wonderful, thank you, but I'll just have some toast. Don't get up—show me where the toaster is.' But Patric got to his feet and put in a couple of slices from a loaf he'd clearly just got out of a freezer. 'Do you drink coffee at breakfast?' 'Yes, thank you.' It was hot and invigorating—and better still, it gave her eyes and hands -something to do while she waited for the toast. Patric was eating porridge. As she glanced at it he lifted his dark brows at her. 'My Scottish grandmother firmly believed that if you didn't eat porridge you not only risked a life of moral turpitude— don't laugh, that's the word she used!—but you'd come to a bad end. She was a good propagandist. Although,' he added smoothly, 'I must confess I only eat it in cold weather.' If he ate porridge, who did he keep the muesli for? 'It's supposed to be extremely good for you.' Kate knew she sounded stilted, but this was altogether too cosy. She didn't trust her reactions to him, or to the occasion. It was too easy for such moments to become fodder for dreams. And she was finished with dreams. Her life was a constant struggle with money, bringing up a child without a father, and the understanding that she wasn't likely to find herself with either a marriage or a particularly satisfying career. She'd done her best with the meagre hand fortune had dealt her, and she would continue to play it as well as she could, but she and Patric had nothing in common beyond a long-ago summer fling.

and demolished the rest. a violent physical attraction that didn't know when to die. People who live in England. 'We don't live in England. Patric's brows lifted.' He looked at Patric's plate. 'Is porridge good for boys too?' Nick demanded. and Patric got up and disappeared into the kitchen.' he said austerely.' Nick picked up his spoon. Nick nodded. . 'I said no thank you because I didn't know what it tasted like. 'It tastes good. 'Only Sassenachs eat their porridge with sugar. surveying the porridge. at least. and the two slices of toast for Kate.' 'Would you like to try some?' Patric asked. Kate spread honey on her toast and tried to ignore the man serenely eating porridge across the table. 'Real people have it with salt. in a passable Scots accent.' Nick grinned. we're New Zealanders. He came back with a small bowl containing a tiny amount of porridge. 'What are Sass-Sassenachs?' 'Saxons. 'And what does tturpitude mean?' Kate smiled at him.And on her side. 'Porridge is good for everyone. So we're not Sassenachs. 'Does it have sugar in it?' Nick asked.' Nick said approvingly. and turpitude means excessive badness.' Patric and Kate said together. are we?' 'No.

Nick looked puzzled. 'Why do they have it with sugar and we don't?' Kate hid a smile, but Patric explained the millennia-long rivalry between Saxon and Celt with clarity and conciseness. Nick nodded, taking it all in. And again an odd frisson of loneliness, of exclusion, shivered through Kate. It was ridiculous; it was also entirely natural. All Nick's life she'd been the only person he'd had to answer questions— and yet that wasn't true. He spent long hours with Jacob and the MacArthurs, and she'd never been jealous or felt left out. Nick asked, 'Mummy, are we Scottish?' 'No. There's a little bit of Irish in us,' she said, 'But I'm afraid most of us is plain yeoman stock from England—people who ate bacon and eggs for breakfast, not porridge.' Clearly his heart was set on Scottish ancestry, like his idol, because he demanded, 'What about my father? Was he Scottish?' 'I don't think so,' she said quietly. 'Finish your breakfast. We have to get ready soon.' Nick gave her an exasperated look, but set to work on the rest of his food with his usual gusto, while Kate forced toast and coffee down, joining Patric in a civilised, meaningless conversation entirely suited to two strangers who just happened te be eating breakfast together, with the almost-six-year-old son of one of them listening. When they'd finished she offered to do the dishes, but Patric shook his head. "There's a dishwasher.' She got to her feet, noting that he did the same. 'What about the beds? I'll strip them—'

'That's the housekeeper's job,' he said bluntly. 'Go and get ready. Oh, the lost luggage arrived early this morning. It's on the hall table. How did you sleep?' 'Very well, thank you,' she said, turning away to stack dishes on the bench. He said, 'I didn't. I spent a lot of my time remembering that you were asleep a few feet away.'

Shortly after eight Patric knocked on the open bedroom door. 'I'll get the bags,' he said, and picked them up with effortless ease. Kate and Nick followed him, but he put the bags down in the hall and said, 'You've got time to look at the view from the sitting room.' Their bedroom had looked out over the city, with the Sky Tower dominating the view, but he led them into a huge room walled with glass overlooking the harbour. From it a deck extended, furnished with pots and tubs of pansies and bamboo and other plants. Even on a cool spring morning with rain in the offing it looked lush and tropical. In summer, Kate thought, it must be magical. Opening a door, Patric said to Nick, 'That's where the Whitbread yachts come in, and that, of course, is the harbour bridge you'll be going over shortly. Down there's the Maritime Museum, and if you look the other way that place with the funny little towers is the Ferry Building.' Nick followed him fearlessly over to the balustrade. Kate stood just outside the door, gazing out over the glittering panorama. Nick would get over this affection for the man he'd known such a short time.

She'd have to make sure he had plenty to do, plenty to think about, for the next few weeks. 'All right?' Patric asked, frowning, his dark eyes scanning her face. 'I'd forgotten you were afraid of heights.' 'I'm not afraid where there's a balustrade,' she said quickly. He held out his hand. 'Then come on out.' Kate looked up sharply. He'd used to scorn those who took dares, but there had been a challenging note in his voice that fired her. Ignoring his hand, she said, 'I don't need help, thanks,' and walked past him to join Nick, who was staring at a strange craft in the basin. 'Mum, that's Xena the Warrior Princess's boat,' he told her in awestruck tones. 'On television.' Although they didn't own a television set, Kate knew that the popular series was shot in New Zealand. 'Is it?' ' Yes.' He stared reverently at the strange-looking craft. 'When I stayed with Rangi we watched that programme. It's a Greek boat. Xena's a Greek warrior princess.' It was easy to see, Kate .thought with a clutch of wry amusement, that the boat's presence in the Viaduct Basin only increased Patric's desirability as a human being. Nick twisted to look up at his host. 'Have you seen it sailing?' he asked. 'Several times,' Patric told him, and grinned down at Nick's impressed face. 'It looks very strange. Come on, we can't stay out here—your bus will be waiting for you.'

He took them in his car on his way to work, and because he doubleparked to let them off there was no time for awkward farewells, although he insisted on carrying the bags in and up to the counter. Kate gave him her hand and said, 'Thank you, Patric.' 'My pleasure,' he said, and lifted her hand to kiss the palm. Her heart flipped as he released her and turned to the boy he'd thought to be his son. Nick held out his hand, and Patric shook it with gravity and a smile. 'Take care of your mother,' he said. Nodding, Nick blinked and fought back tears. And Patric, thank heavens, ruffled the boy's hair, and turned and strode away.

Radiant-faced. I think. Turning it over. Yours. 'Who is this man?' Jacob asked a little abruptly when Nick had scooted inside to collect his school bag. Kate stared down at die bold black printing. He likes Nick. he shouted. Dear Nick. so she arranged with Jacob and Anna next door to collect Nick from school. fussing over Nick. 'An old friend of mine. As she got out of the Mini he came bursting through their front door. followed by a grave Jacob. and he's written to me.CHAPTER SIX JUST over two weeks later Kate had to stay late at work.' Kate said. Look!' He thrust a brightly coloured picture of a pirate ship into her hands. It rained. He gave her a shrewd look from beneath white brows. 'Mr Sutherland is in Disneyland in California in America. Patric had addressed it correctly. and feels a little sorry for him. I went here with friends yesterday. It's a postcard. her smile trembling on her lips. Kate summoned a determined smile. I thought of you when we saw the rides. 'No. 'Who wishes to be a new friend? Or perhaps more than a friend? Anna smells a romance. but we had a good time.' His wife could be heard inside.' . Patric Sutherland.

You are a young. shaking his head over the vagaries of modern life. And everyone needs someone to rely on.' After Nick had put his school gear away. and Kate had changed and grabbed herself a cup of tea accompanied by a quick flick through the newspaper. you need someone to take care of you. 'Off you go.' 'Believe me. intelligent woman. she began preparing dinner. Women take care of themselves now. Jacob. 'But it does not seem right. one will come your way one day. who loves my small friend as well as his mother.' Kate said with quiet. perhaps. And that you stayed at his apartment in Auckland when you came back home. complete sincerity. 'I hope Nick also told you that he and I slept in the same room!' 'It is none of my business.' Jacob said severely. not the most important.' Kate reiached up and kissed him on the cheek. Also. Nicholas said that you had seen quite a bit of him in Australia. 'But Nicholas is beginning to realise that most of his friends have fathers and he wonders why he should not. . 'that would be the most important qualification.' Jacob returned drily. well.' 'Perhaps.'So he is kind. You deserve a man who will make you happy too. Just make sure you choose a good man. 'This is the end of the century.' Kate managed to laugh.' 'Well. turning as Nick came bounding towards them. Even I rely on my Anna! Oh. and you would make some fortunate man very happy.' he said. closely followed by Anna. beautiful.

Nick's jaw firmed. If she ignored this he'd never get around to it.' Suddenly angry with Patric. slicing the meat into thin strips.'I'll have to write to Mr Sutherland.' he said after a moment's thought. but nothing electronic. Do you want me to read my book to you?' 'Yes. she thought cynically. but he didn't seem to miss it at all.' he said. yes. beautifully decorated apartment. he began to read. She couldn't remember seeing any sign of a set in Patric's opulent. please. Kate flicked open a broad bean pod with unnecessary vigour and extracted the plump green beans. a room decorated in the same clever. 'He's my secret.' Then he frowned. 'I should thank him for his card. relaxed style as the sitting room to show off state-of-the-art equipment. 'You don't need to answer postcards. . He thoroughly enjoyed the occasional television programme he watched with Rangi. Probably he had a complete room dedicated to home entertainment. 'No. As she peeled potatoes and scrubbed and sliced the vegetables for chicken stir-fry.' Settling himself on a stool on the dinette side of the narrow breakfast bar. Nick had to be vigorously coaxed into writing thank-you letters. A wall of bookshelves. 'Will you take it to school and show the class?' 'Yes.' Nick said. So she evaded the issue by asking. 'You always make me write to people when they send me presents.' Like children the world over. putting his lunchbox on the bench. Kate thanked heaven that he'd been born a reader.

you boys. 'Well done. yelled. he ran back through the other small boys.' . 'All right. and if they unsettled him at all. Turn around now. along with the coach and half a dozen other desperate parents. Then Nick got the ball. Grinning. turn around.' Miraculously he heard them. Because Kate almost always watched him. looked around.Kate piled the broad beans into a small saucepan and wondered why Nick's decision not to take that postcard to school had set off alarm bells. On Saturday mornings Nick played rugby. she often collected several children whose parents couldn't make it. it would have been more sensible to stay at home and make sure the week's used clothes went through her old washing machine instead of standing on the sideline of 'a muddy field watching a pack of small boys scamper up and down with such scant disregard for the rules that periodically she had to stop herself from laughing. If Patric intended to continue sending him postcards. and slowed. Forehead furrowed with concentration.' the coach roared. Nick. Unfortunately it was the wrong line. he headed for the line. so she and Nick walked there. Kate. 'Go back. however. bewildering so many of the opposition that he was able to fling himself triumphantly into the mud at the correct end. Nick. get back to the halfway line. and realised his mistake. The following weekend. the game was on a field close by. she'd soon put a stop to it. A benign sun shone down onto a sodden world. run the other way.

' She looked over Kate's shoulder and made a soft growling noise in her throat. Kate clapped. he's a natural.' her companion prophesied sagely. 'Better go. He's got good instincts.' he said.' From further down the line someone yelled. 'Marie!' and she grinned. See you. 'Oh. 'That's my fifth son playing in the other team. Kate turned.Laughing. smiling at the woman beside her. 'Your husband?' she asked beneath her breath. they're gorgeous. I know junior rugby. aren't they? Is this his first try?' 'His very first. that naked. Kate watched with wry comprehension as her companion succumbed without a struggle.' she said. 'It won't be his last.' .' she said foolishly. 'What—what are you doing here?' 'Watching Nick score a try. The woman standing next to her said. Iron-grey eyes met her gaze with cool. inflated with pride. 'How did you find us?' 'Your next-door neighbour told me where you'd be. 'Hi.' Kate said. dimpling. 'Your son's playing very well—in fact.' Beating back an incandescent flare of joy. 'Patric. your boy. Believe me. Kate waited until they were alone before asking tersely. 'Lucky you!' Startled. formidable charm. and he can run. compelling self-possession. It was effortless.

' Patric grinned. 'For a moment I thought he was going to score for the opposition. waited almost seven years for this—had never stopped waiting.' 'You didn't try to change his mind?' 'Of course I did.' 'That happens reasonably often. ardent. this stunned. to sound normal. but Nick's had his heart set on rugby ever since he watched Rangi's older brothers play. 'I gather they don't tackle or scrum. yet expectant—had been the Kate who'd fallen in love with Patric when she was sixteen and never been able to fall out of it. her brain at last beginning to work.' Kate told him. but it was hopeless. she'd got on with her life. She had. but immured behind barred and locked doors in her heart—ignored. shivering pleasure. so I gave up. 'I'd rather hoped he'd play soccer. And that hidden Kate—innocent. although the spectators usually manage to yell loudly enough to stop it. heavily beating wings. 'Yes. she thought despairingly. Oh.' Happiness unfurled on slow.' 'No.' He was watching the little boys scatter and clump across the field. . That Kate had never given up hope. they just tag each other. She tried to smile naturally. impractical—was a real threat to the secure life she'd built so painfully. trusting. quiescent.'Jacob?' Somehow she had to control this violent delight. I save my strength for the really important issues.

Patric was one of the richest men in New Zealand—in the Pacific Basin! He owned and headed a worldwide force in aviation. but was he wracked by the same powerful hunger for completion? Or did he plan an affair? It had to be wishful thinking to hope that they might be able to breach the barrier of the disillusioned years and build something true and lasting from the debris. she told herself with brusque common sense.' The expression on his tough face didn't alter. He's a great kid. What did they have in common beyond the memory of an enchanted love affair when they had both been young enough to believe that miracles could happen? She didn't date risk her peace of mind. Or Nick's. I hope not. 'Patric.Why hadn't Patric bowed out gracefully? That moment of charged desire in his office had revealed that he wanted her. implacably angry. Because that sort of ending only came in fairy stories.. Foolish—no.old. The Patric she'd loved had been self-controlled.' she said. certainly.' 'You've made a good job of him.' 'Doting. 'I refuse to believe you're a foolishly doting mother. yet she knew her blunt statement had made him coldly. the man beside her commented.friendship.' Patric laughed. I don't think it would be wise for you to keep up this. . but nothing like this.' 'He's happy. and gathered her strength around her like armour.'' 'Some might think "he has good hands" to be pretty lukewarm praise for a player as brilliant as Nick. 'He has good hands for a six-year. After watching in silence for some minutes..

It vanished almost immediately. 'A scolding?' 'You can do better than that. Which makes it very fortunate that I like the boy.' . 'You unsettle him. He doesn't need any grief in his life. 'Why?' he asked quite gently. It will be better if you don't see him or write to him. and I don't want his heart broken. and even to her own ears it sounded lame. he went on. and for a moment something implacable glittered in the gunmetal grey eyes. 'Why?' Stiffening her already aching shoulders. I was working on the assumption that one of the easiest ways to a doting mother's heart is through the object of that devotion. 'What with?' she asked. but it left her shaken. then said deliberately.' 'How will I make him unhappy?' She was floundering.' His face hardened. 'You have no claim to him. but she couldn't let him see it— he was too adept at mercilessly homing in onto weakness. Accept it.' she said. not backing down. 'As it happens.' His narrowed eyes moved from her face to the swarm of boys. She met his icy stare with courage. 'He might grow to love you as the father he's never had. 'Are you threatening me?' he asked silkily. forcing an ironic note into the words. she said quietly. 'Because he's happy the way things are.' She paused. Patric.Her chin lifted. Without any inflection.

I mean. It took all of her determination to say. Perhaps if she'd told him then what had happened—but she'd been shattered by the cruel ugliness of her experience. half hiding Patric's eyes. Hadn't you realised that it's still as. Patric turned to look at her. He knew. Realised. Did she have the right to take the risk of falling in love again when she had Nick's well-being to consider? Kate fixed her gaze on the ragged stream of small mud. strong as it ever was?' A feverish heat clouded her mind.' Thick black lashes drooped. she'd been unable to face what had happened to her. a sardonic smile curving the long mouth. singing a song that stripped me bare of everything but the need to follow you.Kate thought she'd misheard him.' His words stabbed her to the heart. Kate? I never could leave you alone. controlled brain selecting and discarding options. She stared at the autocratic profile while fragments of thoughts jostled for room.' she said warily. 'Surprised?' he asked softly.encrusted boys as they formed into some kind of order. 'When you turned me down so conclusively at Tatamoa I couldn't believe that the most transcendental experience of my life had meant so little to you. 'No. 'Why. and he still wanted her. It would be bad for Nick—he's not accustomed to a series of temporary fathers. But Patric knew now. After . She had a sense of that quick. You were like a siren.' 'I've had years to perfect the mask—I'm glad it works so well. 'I'm not in the market for an affair.' Patric said. Appalled at the prospect of bearing her attacker's child and horrified by his threats. I hadn't. Hard on the heels of that thought came another. 'No.

so precious to her—held her captive.a moment he said. and I found it very hard to forgive you for that. clinging in suffocating folds so that she couldn't think.' 'Of course I abandoned you. Temptation wove its glittering. but she sensed the dark emotions curbed by his will. Looking blindly out onto the field. As well as breaking my heart you shattered my pride. but she had to leave them where they belonged. 'I swear to you that I've learnt a little in the past seven years—I won't abandon you again. she tucked a strand of hair into her beret. 'Kate. 'Kate. any commitment. I was thinking no further than the two of us getting to know each other again. 'I wasn't suggesting an affair. 'Patric—' 'I don't want any promises from you. but you have my word that I do not treat this lightly. 'I broke it off. . Memories of that summer seduction—so beautiful.' Patric said unhurriedly. and everyone clapped. beamed when he saw her—or was it when he saw Patric?—and headed off towards the goalposts at the other end of the field.' His voice was clipped. She hadn't realised the first real test of that vow would be so difficult to meet. she heard the coach call something. in the past.' she protested. Nick looked around. When she'd held Nick after his birth she'd made a promise that she'd always put his welfare above her own.' Embarrassed by her mistake.' Kate turned her head away in case he should see her sudden hope.' 'You didn't abandon me. seductive web around her. could we try again?' The stark sincerity in his words undermined her defences.

for better or worse she'd allowed the decision to be ratified.' 'It's just a car. then set the car in motion. uncompromising.. Grinning. Steady. 'And neither will Nick. We'll walk back. 'You won't regret it. 'Nick's covered in mud. 'We could try. if you're sure you don't mind. assailed by an eerie inevitability.' he said evenly. thoughtful. he vibrated with joy.' he shouted. but I heard Mummy and I turned around and came back and I scored a try!' Noisy. his eyes held hers.. followed by both teams chanting the ritual of three cheers for each other and three for the referee. She looked at the sleek dark grey monster and prevented herself from shrugging.' And was. Mr Sutherland. Nick waved to a group of his friends.' Dimly she heard the sound of a whistle. uninhibited. Once in.Tentatively she said.' Patric said with compelling determination. as though this was somehow fated. Then Nick came pounding across on muddy bare feet. high on adrenalin and glory. When Patric suggested they drive home in his car she said. and any chance of changing her mind was gone. From the road her flat looked small and slightly grubby. . 'Well. with a very straight back and rigid shoulders Kate led them up to the front door . 'Hello. I suppose.' Patric told her. 'Did you see my try? I was going to score at the wrong end. he checked to make sure she and Nick both had their seatbelts on. his face lit with delight beneath the smears.' 'I don't mind. Patric congratulated him.

'My parents travelled a lot. offering a chance of happiness if only she was brave enough to reach for it.' he explained 'And although I missed them. and without its warmth the rooms felt dull and chilly.' She didn't say anything. the sun had gone in.' he said promptly as Nick disappeared. 'Nick is perfectly capable of running his own bath and finding his own clothes. Patric. 'Nick.' she said. and make sure those knees and feet get a good scrub. 'How old were you when that happened?' 'Seven. I am not ashamed of it. Cool. which would you prefer. Aloud she said. 'I had a nanny until I went away to school.' Patric said. damp air greeted them. coffee or tea?' 'Tea. She was no longer in thrall to it. thank you.' Her answering smile was brittle. into the bath. 'I thought you might need to run the bath. his frown smoothing away as he watched her move around the small kitchen. or find clothes.' .and opened it. and the nanny. but he must have recognised her outrage. I enjoyed boarding school. 'Would you like me to make it?' He met her raised brows with a faint smile. 'Did you have a nanny when you were a child?' Sometimes when Nick frowned she thought his brows twitched together like Patric's—the same wishful thinking that had led to her giving her son Patrick as a second name. and this was the present—at once scary and exciting. she thought defiantly. The past was over and done with. Patric was not Nick's father.

'Yes.' . You said you decided to keep Nick because you'd felt like an outsider in . Well. she poured boiling water into the pot. He'd be too busy to come up to Whangarei much.' Kate said. Surely—no. she thought sturdily as she measured tea into the teapot. My children will stay at home.' Was he trying to tell her something? No. 'Or good substitutes. need parents.' 'I wasn't unhappy. 'Children need their parents. 'Children do. he knew Nick wasn't his son! He finished smoothly. 'And it wasn't their fault that I never felt entirely at home. but what exactly did he mean by it? Ruthlessly subduing the anticipation that bubbled up from some secret wellspring. He laughed. and I'll only travel when it's absolutely necessary. was a good thing. indeed. We all took our toys. she said.your family—I hadn't realised you were unhappy with your aunt and uncle. And no.' And immediately wondered whether her remark amounted to an admission that Nick might be missing a father figure in his life. A new beginning was all very well. It could have happened in any family— there's often an odd one out.'Did you take your teddy with you?' she demanded. To the sound of the water running in the bathroom.' he said. I don't believe it is as good a solution as living with a loving family. an equivocal note in his voice sending a cold finger down Kate's spine. Patric wouldn't have time to fulfil that function. searching every throwaway comment for a hidden meaning. Which. she wouldn't head down that path. lifting down two mugs and a glass.

' He gave Patric a suddenly shy smile.' Patric said. He'd taken great pains— combing his hair back and putting on the jeans and surfing sweatshirt she'd bought him on their last day in Australia. All in Patric's honour. but you were exquisite. A whiff of peppermint revealed that he'd even cleaned his teeth again. 'Any bruises?' she asked. stop that!' 'OK. a little fey.'An odd one out who's sure of her place. mysterious. and they did their best.' he said cheerfully. 'I haven't got a try before. Lifting her voice she said in a certain tone of voice. I'm not surprised you felt different. not in the least intimidated. 'It was an excellent try.' Her heart thudded. barely comfortable suite she'd bought at a garage sale. They were good-looking and kind. Kate watched her son carefully skirt a pile of library books and her heart cramped. When he reappeared—hastily scrubbed and dressed— she and Patric had moved to the small sitting room that formed an 'L' with the dining alcove and kitchen. I put some sticking plaster on it. making a place for him beside her on the elderly.' he confided. nevertheless. 'But it's all right.' he shouted. 'Nick.' The bath water stopped running. Kate groaned inwardly at the sound of an exuberant splash. 'They were not like cows. I'm very fond of them—we keep in close touch. 'You always looked like a gazelle in a herd of cows.' he said shrewdly. 'That was my very first one.' 'Did you play rugby when you were as old as me?' . Nick was excited. 'A graze on my knee. so there'd be water all over the walls and floor.

looking around at the hard-won fruits of her recovery. 'probably because I wasn't as fast as you are. he dominated the small room. and a cracker with cheese. Nick's voice—eager. 'We could go to one of the places to eat down on the wharf. she'd cope.Patric nodded. slowly gathering strength. 'I was a forward. Now. lurked a caged hunger. thrilled—broke into her reverie. the perfume of spring—on the cool air. she listened to Nick and Patric talk to each other. Patric's long legs seemed to stretch out over most of the floor. She and Nick were comfortable and happy here. But why ask for trouble? Although she accepted his version of the events of seven years ago. citrus-sharp yet sweet. 'You know.. No.' Kate gave Nick his glass of water. knew it well. and gradually relaxed her tense muscles as they discussed football. Mummy. yes. envy. the ones we saw when we looked at the blue-water boats. This was her home.' he said. The emotion that gnawed at her composure was neither dissatisfaction nor its sullen sibling. She'd found the strength to endure everything that had come her way so far. but it had only needed Patric's presence to bring it back to life. she was worried and wary and edgy. this Patric Sutherland was a much tougher proposition than the golden man she'd fallen in love with.' he suggested. she'd thought it long dead. "If she learned to love again—and if her love was rebuffed—would she cope? Oh. Scent from the starry pink flowers floated—fresh. its shabbiness enlivened only by the sprigs of daphne she'd picked the previous day.' . She recognised it. And beneath those eminently sensible responses.

'Come on. 'Do you want me to change my clothes. Kate knew that her favourite sage-green jersey enhanced the green in her eyes.' Standing very close to his mother. 'I'd better change into something a little more upmarket.He turned back to Patric. Patric said drily. she would never forgive herself. Patric's expression didn't alter. but she felt his regard like a caress. Mummy?' 'No. If she ran away again.' Patric's gaze met Kate's. Nick asked. then asked loudly. 'That will be great. It wrung her heart. and smiled at him. Nick returned the smile. 'Mummy liked the one from Seattle in America. Following suit. although old. and to her alarm her nipples tightened and flowered beneath the soft material of her bra. and knew that she could not.It had the usual effect. getting to her feet.' Nick looked from one to the other. 'I thought you might like to go out to lunch. and when Patric stood back to let Kate go ahead Nick did too. but I saw one from Hamburg in Germany! All the way across the world! I liked it best. 'What's that?' 'You are. to send him out of their lives. . She looked from his face to Nick's. 'The possessive male. If .' Patric said.' she said. 'You look lovely just as you are. and that the jeans.' It was her last chance to say no.' Patric's dark glance slid to assess her clothes.' she said.' he said quietly. trying to hide the panicky edge in her voice. his brows furrowed. you've already got your best clothes on. his dark eyes limpidly amused. were good quality and fitted well.

looking over his shoulder while Patric took the key from her and locked the door. Nick. he'd have a furious mother! Then Patric said. Going down the path towards the car. she thought worriedly that Nick and she had been alone for so long that the addition of another person in their tight little twosome would mean a massive shift in the way they related to each other.Patric put a foot wrong this time he wouldn't have a shattered teenager to deal with. . 'Give your mother room.' and after a moment Nick walked in front.

with its walks and plantings. 'This is all new. But life was a ledger of choices. He understood the longing for freedom. They always made Kate feel trapped. was a thriving. still looking around. 'I'm hungry.CHAPTER SEVEN 'I'M NOT surprised you come here—I remember how you loved the water. trying to sound pathetic.' Struck again by a chill of alienation. 'Yes. 'I come here occasionally on business.' Kate said.' Patric said.' Nick informed them. bustling place. breathing adventure and freedom on wide waters.' Indeed the town basin. 'They've made a good job of it. 'Then we'll go to that cafe. opportunities taken or rejected. graceful as a heron in flight. its fish and clock museums. Nick running ahead. 'Mummy likes the boats. 'And as the sun's out and there's no wind we could sit outside.' he said indifferently.' Patric said quietly. and the bonds of responsibility and love that tied her.' Nick said. Have you been to Whangarei much?' It hurt that he should have visited the city and she hadn't known. Kate walked across the sunlit pavement beside Patric. its shops and busy restaurants. She had plenty of . she didn't regret it. looking around him as they walked from the car park towards the town basin. stopping to look down at one splendid white sloop. those yachts—big and beautiful with sleek lines. and for a moment an unspoken communication flashed between them. When she'd made the decision to keep Nick she'd accepted that she'd be giving up a lot for him. isn't it?' 'Yes.

of the effect it could have on her pleasant. 'Can we go inside and see what there is?' 'Of course.' Patric said.' she said quickly. across the soft. but when she thought of her life it seemed that she'd spent the past seven years lost in a fog of loneliness. Patric had exposed her to the sun. after he'd held out a Chair for her. Deliberately she let her mind go blank. After another unsettling. 'What would you like to eat?' he asked. please. 'Do you want to come. And a cup of coffee. The sun umbrellas were furled.' 'Nick?' Nick said. bush-clad slopes of Parahaki beyond. across the busy road on the other side of the basin to the peaceful. scanning the blackboard menu. She had no appetite.' Her voice sounded odd—thin and distant. across the masts and booms and graceful hulls of the yachts. sword-shaped leaves of the ren.friends. Patric went inside with Nick. and she was afraid of that bright light—of what it might reveal about her.' Patric said.garenga lilies and their spikes of starry white flowers. I'll sit here. 'A sandwich. as though all emotion and spirit had been leached from her. 'You look triste. then sat down again and stared gravely across the paving. . Kate stood up and opened the one above their table. and so did Nick. too perceptive glance. 'Tomato and cheese. humdrum life. Kate?' 'No. but the sky was now bright enough to make sitting out uncomfortable. or something like that.

although you don't laugh nearly so much.' He was wooing her with his deep. 'I was thinking.' he said obliquely.' she admitted.' she said lamely. a nobody. 'I was a silly adolescent. but Patric's face had set in lines of aloofness. sensuous voice.' 'No. 'I used to wonder what thoughts hid behind that haunting face. What hasn't changed is the secrets hiding in those blue-green eyes.' 'My mother comes from a culture with a rigid class system. as though you'd come from fairyland.' he agreed. dangerous intensity that's a warning as much as a lure.' His tone hardened.Kate jumped. You're more beautiful now. 'There's nothing weak about you.' 'I used to think you were made for journeys. and my father had old-fashioned ideas. although he never forgot that he'd come from farming stock.' He looked at Nick. And not the fairyland of little beings with gauzy wings either—you have a focused. Clearly delighted with his world. 'Unlike this one. you weren't.' "The wrong word.' 'He's a Scorpio. laughing thing. 'I hope so. busily draining a glass of water with a slice of lemon in it. You might look vulnerable. Kate had to swallow before she could answer. he said.' Sensation scudded the length of her spine. pulled her skin tight. with hypnotic dark eyes. . surely? It sounds weak and wishy-washy. You were such a graceful. Nick grinned at her. And I'm not wistful. Smiling narrowly. Grabbing for an anchor of reality. 'I wasn't a snob. yet it was impossible to tell what you were feeling.fulness there. And don't tell me your mother didn't point that out to you. she said. 'There's no wist. but you're as strong as spun steel. with all that that implies.

' Kate had no appetite.' 'There were—are—none between you and me. 'You're a romantic.' Kate' s brows climbed—hiding. 'I don't entirely blame your parents for their feelings.' he said curtly.' she said. 'I already knew that. wholly concentrated on tackling a large piece of quiche. 'Did they get to you. Kate?' 'Your mother was worried. why didn't he let things ride? Kate looked across at Nick. 'It's just as well you didn't..that happens after many years apart.'But?' A moment's silence until he said softly.the man.' Without missing a beat he initiated the sort of catching. she hoped. he asked with latent. 'It's foolish to pretend there are no social barriers in New Zealand. 'You played havoc enough with my life.' .' He too was constrained by Nick's presence. 'She was wrong.' he said.' she said. She said that we—weren't suited.' he said levelly. 'I wish I'd known that. forcing a light note into her voice. 'So your cousins are all married now?' 'And with children. 'And so are you. When she didn't answer. Kate—that provocative lure. Kate saw him reimpose control. and gave a mirthless smile.up conversation. the sudden wild thud of her pulses.' Patric's smile was enigmatic. but she took a small bite of the sandwich. unspoken menace. Kate?' Damp. the exquisite siren's song we both hear when we're together.' she evaded. and waited. 'What did they say. 'Juliet and her husband are the closest—they own an orchard in Kerikeri. It's still there.

' Which sounded as though Patric might now be in charge of the trust fund 'Black' Pat had set up for his daughter— or what was left of it after her husband. had frittered away much of it by making one disastrous financial decision after another. Patric laughed. wondering what she'd started. If you score ten tries in one game you don't get ten cakes.Patric nodded. hopefully eyeing Patric as the better bet. but when he'd made up his mind to do something he got there. 'You'd better ask your mother. but I managed to persuade her it wasn't necessarily a brilliant investment.' he said.' Patric said lazily.' she said. She'd loved his laugh.' she said. reading her mind.' Her son's eyes gleamed. She really wanted to buy an ostrich farm.' Kate would have agreed to anything that made Patric laugh. Would he now score several tries every Saturday? 'Relax. and she hadn't heard much of it since they'd met again. 'Of course you may have a cake. 'My Aunt Barbara—Sean's mother—has shares in an orchard in Kerikeri.' 'In a couple of weeks. have you had enough?' 'There was a cake in there. 'Darling. a good-looking weakling. 'Can I—may I—have a cake every time I score a try?' 'Not every try. Kate looked at Nick and said. . 'It's a special day— you did get a try. Sean's name on Patric's lips was sacrilege.' Only when they'd disappeared inside the cafe did Kate close her eyes and release the breath pent in her lungs. Nick wasn't fiercely competitive. 'The rugby season must finish soon.

provided they stayed cut. Years later. But would Patric look at Nick differently if he knew that the boy was Sean's son? Probably. and eventually they ebbed. Beaming at his mother. and had to five with the results. if no one in the Sutherland family communicated with Sean. Nick arrived back. And although Sean was all bluster. she'd hit him in the solar plexus. So many decisions made in unbearable emotion—who was to say whether they'd been wrong or right? She'd done the best she could at the time. she'd decided that one of the reasons Sean had attacked her had been to salvage some mean remnant of pride. in his lethal voice. carrying a plate with a slice of cheesecake complete with cream and dark blueberries. let them wash over her without resistance. Hearing his name still made her shudder. glinting silver in the spring sunlight. Kate's fingers tightened in her lap. His excoriating summary of Sean's character. Patric had despised his cousin. A gull feathered its wings and swooped slowly over the basin. However. he'd never find out he had a son. receded into the past. Halfway through that last holiday at Tatamoa he'd backed Kate into a corner at a party and tried to kiss her. morals and behaviour had reduced his cousin to humiliated sullenness.She endured the waves of rage and pain and angry humiliation. Nick would be safe. a handsome. he'd been afraid of his younger cousin. He'd been doubled up and gasping when Patric had found them and spun him away with murder in his eyes. malicious bully. he . but she didn't care about him now—except for Nick's sake. Revolted and furious. alien. What had Sean done that had finally cut the family ties? She didn't care. solitary.

heart-shakingly. the lithe. to the scents of coffee and salty water and growing things. she thought flatly. and swept across her skin in a charged current.' he announced. Kate flicked a glance at Patric. You're in lust again. for Nick seemed to shimmer in his own radiance.' Her mouth curled into a stiff smile. in an almost soundless voice. Once again she endured a dislocating awareness. so many fantasies down the years. the beautifully chiselled mouth. Unfortunately it wasn't plain. Lust. 'Mr Sutherland says we can go to the playground in the park afterwards. flushing at the sudden. savage heat that flamed within his eyes. Sean's callous attack had ripped through her life with the brutal . 'Of course I want to. male grace that had prowled through so many dreams.set it carefully down. straightforward. He nodded in a lordly fashion and proceeded to demolish the cheesecake. and watched her closely. Every sense burst into action so that she drank in his colours and textures—the symmetry of bronze skin and blue-black hair. if you want to. the arrogant line of his nose and chin. elemental tide of awareness heightened every sense—the very air sparkled. It wasn't just Patric she was attuned to. to the taste of a wildfire hunger in her mouth. either. to the passionate caress of the sun on her skin. uncomplicated desire. Bewildered. 'How long are you going to keep me on a leash?' he asked. Although a heavy weight seemed to have taken up residence just under her heart. a consuming. Kate felt herself respond acutely.

but would other. It was a gamble that would play with hearts—her own and Nick's— but it would be cowardly to give up the chance to love Patric. and reality crashed into that hushed. walled off by Patric's intense. from the corner of her eye Kate saw the small bird hop twice and pick up a crumb. worldly sparrow. the sparrow flew away. sensual world. all-consuming need that still echoed through every cell in her body. devouring gaze from the laughter and noise of the people all around them. In spite of her own hard work and the best efforts of her counsellor. Caught in a web of thick silence. a turbulent. Nick froze. smooth as velvet. more intense responses be tainted by that act of violence? Heat flowed inside her. to build some sort of future with him. she jumped when a seagull cried— raucous. But perhaps—and for the first time she allowed herself to articulate the thought—perhaps this could be a true new beginning. It had been like this nearly seven years ago— fire and ice. it was a barrier she'd never managed to overcome. Did she dare? Patric had made no guarantees—and of course he couldn't. inescapable as a rip tide. A sparrow chose that moment to land on the edge of the table—a sophisticated.efficiency of a chainsaw. And now she wanted Patric again. His kiss had sent her soaring. Startled. She'd spent all those years hiding and not even known it. with a good eye for food and danger. enchanted. yet she had no idea how she would react if he touched her with true passion. its trauma setting a barrier between her and the rest of the world. infinitely forlorn. .

Mum? Did you see that. When Nick enthused. Kate dragged her gaze away. 'Did you see that. 'Fussing drives him crazy. 'From high school to motherhood in one huge leap. was a real struggle. It was probably just as well that she found it difficult to remember that year.' he said.' 'You must have found it hard at first. After Kate had finished her coffee they set off for the playground. A quick lesson in maturity.' she said drily. She said. He doesn't like pain. And I watch him like a hawk. Mr Sutherland?' she could only nod and wait for her spinning heart to settle down.' His expression didn't alter. Because I don't often make a fuss he's inclined to listep when I do. 'Nick was worth it. 'Yes.' Patric remarked as Nick swung across the bars.Stunned by its power. They were seated at a picnic table close by. Almost immediately the long fingers straightened. 'Having to surrender my entire life to another person. 'You don't seem alarmed by his daring. Patric's hand tightened into a fist against the rough boards of the table. 'Oh. so he's reasonably sensible—or as sensible as a child of his age can be. but soon his interest in the climbing bars took over and he began to concentrate on what he was doing. At first Nick couldn't resist showing off.' . indeed. Kate said.' She didn't lie.' she said. but that momentary lapse of control left her obscurely comforted. even my own child.

' Besides. and there was plenty of cheap accommodation. Or Patric.' she said bluntly.' .' 'You always had friends. What made you come to Whangarei?' Kate fixed her eyes on her son. 'Anyway. Whangarei was going through a hard time then. I don't plan to stay in the shop for the rest of my life.' he said. 'I didn't want to stay in Christchurch. she asked. 'You were essentially self-contained. 'Yet I used to think that.' he said austerely. you kept some part of yourself detached. but at what cost to yourself? Working in a dress shop is not the career in management you wanted.' It was a decision she hadn't even realised she'd made.'Children having children is not usually good for the parent or the child. although you were genuinely fond of them.' 'Without qualifications there isn't much choice. and any flat I could afford in Auckland was in an area I didn't want my child to grow up in. 'Good.' 'I soon made friends.' Startled. 'You've done well with Nick. she waved back. 'So I looked around for a small city. in Auckland there had always been the remote possibility that she might run into Sean. 'Was I so cold and withdrawn?' 'Far from it—it was obvious that you liked your friends. Nick waved. then resumed deliberately.' He paused.' 'You must have been lonely. No one is self-contained. 'I don't know where you got that idea.' Happily swinging from the bars. Next year I'm going to start extramural studies. You still are.

he said. You must have known.' he said. but now he parried her gaze with cool. He'd been watching Nick too. astounded by her anger. 'According to him. Especially when she obviously wasn't in the' least interested in me. 'Who?' 'My father.' He spoke levelly. It was ridiculous to feel protective of Patric Sutherland. without inflection. his voice reflective. 'Why on earth—?' 'On my eighteenth birthday he took me aside and explained that as I was going to take over Sutherland Aviation I was what he called "a good catch".' Shocked. 'You don't believe that.' he said. not because they were attracted to me personally but because they wanted access to my bank balance. guarded eyes.' she scoffed. women would do their best to lure me into relationships.' . but I thought there was something wrong with me for being so fascinated by a girl so young. she thought. 'I've had it pointed out to me by experts.'I watched you grow up. she said.' Drily cynical. Or more likely in love with the Sutherland name and the Sutherland assets. sarcasm curling through his tone. mainly. 'Of course I was—every girl in Poto over the age of twelve was in love with you.' Kate turned her head. Such iron discipline must have been learned in a hard school. I told you he was old-fashioned. 'In love with love.' This surprised a sardonic laugh from Kate. 'You were an enchanting girl. flicking against each word.

she said. that's what Laura wanted. her chosen one.' he said calmly. 'Sweet Kate.' he said evenly. Fiercely wishing she could have just five minutes with Alex Sutherland. I had to force myself to . do you still have the power to drive me to the edge of insanity? When you came towards me in that theme park on the Gold Coast I literally couldn't breathe. do you think? Why. Kate could only stare. 'You can't have thought the Only reason you were so popular was money!' 'It helped.' She protested.Kate thought of Patric's father. She glanced at his profile. Known little and understood less. Desire bridged the space between them. He asked harshly. 'What is it. implacable against the fresh green of the park. and other women. after all these years. a tall man with a handsome face and a quick wit. Dry-mouthed. 'It always helps. as inexorable and dangerously seductive as lava hot from the heart of the earth. and as if she'd spoken he turned. During their exquisitely drawn-out courtship they'd talked of many things—of their hopes and aspirations. Although she'd have denied it. 'He was right. of their fears and the things they loved and hated—but now she realised that she'd known very little about the man who'd taken her virginity. 'How ridiculous! You had a lot more going for you than your parents' money—' He turned his head and smiled—not a pleasant smile. stating a fact.' In Kate's mind he'd been the golden man—beloved of the gods. raw and primitive. It had been hero-worship.

'Oh.stained wood of the table and took her hand in his. and it took all of my self-control not to kiss you with years of need and hunger. so I didn't. Kate thought. an emotion close to contempt chilling his voice. His smile was cold.' 'Other women?' she asked quickly. Until then she'd been able to delude herself that she had some control over the situation. Have you had any other lovers?' It was none of his business. After Laura died I looked for you again. Instead he reached across the rough. jealously. 'Do you know how many Browns there are in New Zealand?' Patric asked. like an unstable explosive needing only a spark to set it off. However.' His austere face hardened. weather.move. scarlet. 'Because I couldn't bear to be touched. He scrutinised her face as though he'd never seen her before.' He looked back at Nick. . still swinging on bars. yes. almost aggressive. 'Why?' Nothing but the truth would do. 'Tens of thousands. to go to you. but he didn't speak.faced now. but you'd dropped off the face of the earth.' His expression froze. I finally accepted that you'd meant what you'd said that day in Tatamoa. but once Patric touched her she went up in flames for him like tinder in the desert. It . He'd stop soon.seemed ludicrous to remain faithful to someone who'd turned me down so comprehensively. Kate braced herself. 'No. I have little taste for promiscuity and I'm not careless. The exquisite pleasure of it almost shattered her.

he said. She wasn't prepared to give it to him. she turned to greet her son. 'I am not. she thought confusedly. Kate. looking into a face that might have been hewn in granite. With the wildfire colour of sexual awareness still burning her cheeks.' . his tone balanced on the edge of belligerence. 'Why were you holding his hand?' he asked. without haste Patric let go her hand and got to his feet. we'd both have spent a lifetime searching for each other. Beneath them his pulse thundered. Nick looked from one to the other. Locked in his long fingers. 'I'm not screaming. 'Kate?' Reluctantly she said. If we hadn't.' Patric said coolly.' It was too soon.' 'Your pulse is fluttering.'Can you bear that?' he asked. 'It's like that for me too. only to go desperate and alone into our graves.' With his other hand he pressed the tips of her fingers against the veins in his wrist. 'Mummy?' Nick's interruption. so it's just as well we met again. In a voice that compelled belief. like Jason's uncle?' 'No.' 'Then why were you holding his hand? You don't hold anyone else's hand. a difficult blend of concern and demand. demanding her surrender. hers quivered. broke the spell. 'Is he going to be my uncle.

Kate stood up too. 'I was holding Mr Sutherland's hand because I like to, and I think we'd better be getting back home,' she said cravenly. Both Patric and Nick glanced at her. Clearly masculine attitudes outranked genetics, because for a second they looked oddly alike, brows drawn into a knot, both gazes straight and intent. Then they moved, and that fleeting likeness vanished. Nick came forward and took her hand. Kate thought Patric was going to walk on the other side of her; she was relieved when he took up his position so that they had Nick in the middle. With an understanding of male psychology she applauded, Patric distracted Nick by asking, 'Who's the wing in your team—the redheaded boy?' 'Timmy Blunt.' Nick relaxed visibly. 'He's cool.' 'I liked the way he passed to you instead of keeping the ball to himself. He plays like a grown-up.' As she listened to them discuss the prowess of several members of the team, Kate blessed the power of rugby on New Zealand males. When Patric let drop that he had not only met the All Blacks—New Zealand's highly successful national rugby team—but was a personal friend of the captain, Nick's resentment vanished and he plied this heroic being with questions. Unbidden, into Kate's mind once again sneaked the thought that Patric would make a wonderful father. Nick said something and Patric laughed with him, and for a moment she was torn by anguish. Oh, he'd probably be tough, but his children would know exactly where they stood with him—and he'd be fair—and they'd never grow up doubting his love for them.

CHAPTER EIGHT IT WAS three o'clock when they reached home; after a stealthy glance at her watch Kate asked Patric whether he'd like to come in for coffee. 'No, thank you,' he replied. 'I have a meeting in Wellington on Monday morning, and I need to get some work done for it.' Stifling a raw disappointment, she said sedately, 'Then thank you very much for lunch and a lovely day.' From the back came Nick's voice. 'Yes, thank you, Mr Sutherland.' Patric didn't answer immediately; Kate's muscles tightened, but when he turned his head to smile at the boy in the back seat she relaxed. She must have imagined that second of taut silence. 'I forgot to thank you for your answer to my postcard,' he said. 'It was a great letter, and I really enjoyed reading it. I'd like to come up next Saturday. Where do you play, Nick, and what time?' 'Kamo,' Nick said, adding a little uncertainly, 'Nine o'clock, isn't it, Mummy?' 'Yes.' 'I'll pick you up,' Patric said, and then, 'What's the matter?' as Kate shook her head. 'I'm taking a carload of children,' she said. 'So what's the problem?' His voice was tinged with impatience. 'This car can pick up kids as well as your Mini. Better, in fact, because we can fit more in. What time do you usually set off?'

Kate's hackles rose; he was taking too much for granted. Without giving herself time to think, she said evenly, 'You don't need to, Patric. We'll see you at Kamo.' Keeping her voice steady and unemotional, she gave him directions to the sports ground and opened her door. 'Come on, Nick.' Patric's brows lifted, but he made no attempt to persuade her; clearly he didn't view this as a battle worth fighting. 'If you can organise someone to stay with Nick we could go out to dinner on Saturday night.' He had tact, because Nick would have objected to the word babysitter. As it was her son's face stiffened, and he gave her the glare that indicated hurt feelings. 'I don't want you to go out,' he said bluntly. Kate would have liked a chance to think the invitation over, but Nick's possessive response made up her mind instantly. Ignoring him, she said, 'I'd like that. What time?' 'Shall we say six-thirty? Would that suit you?' 'Seven-thirty would be better—I have to feed Nick.' Even so, it would be much earlier, she suspected with a hidden gleam of amusement, than Patric normally ate. He walked them up the front path, waited while Kate opened the door, smiled at her and the still simmering Nick, then said, 'I'll see you next Saturday,' and left them. He looked like a god, Kate thought foolishly, tall and confident, striding down the narrow path with an inherent, masculine grace that spoke of strength and control and dynamic power. The car door closed softly behind him.

After a moment of indecision, Nick waved. A lean hand lifted from the wheel in a cool, impersonal response as the car drew away, leaving Kate astonished and wary and excited." She wasn't granted the luxury of examining her feelings because Nick immediately demanded, 'Why can't I go to dinner with you? I had to stay behind in Australia too!' 'We'll be back late—well after your bedtime.' Kate's voice was firm. Sweet-tempered though he was, when her son set his mind on something he applied constant pressure. The only way to deal with him was a pleasant, unmoved refusal to give in. Til be good,' he promised now, obviously settling in for the long haul. Kate said cheerfully, 'I don't recollect Mr Sutherland asking you.' This threw Nick for a second, until he thought of a clincher. 'He would've if you'd said I could come.' 'He wouldn't have, because he knows that boys your age should be in bed early. Otherwise,' she added cunningly, 'they don't grow properly. How do you think Mr Sutherland got to be as tall and big as he is? Not by staying up late when he was almost six years old, I can tell you.' And, disregarding the hot little tremor that slithered down her spine at the thought of Patric's height and those wide shoulders, she closed the door behind them and put her bag down. Temporarily diverted, Nick said, 'I bet he could be an All Black if he wanted to. Why do you think he isn't one, Mummy?' Kate laughed; to small New Zealand boys an All Black was next to the angels. 'I don't know. Perhaps he wasn't good enough.'

' Kate reminded him.tiveness and her long-suppressed hunger for the fulfilment—sexual. emotional and mental—that only Patric had ever been able to give her. 'You'll be able to play with it then.' he said indignantly. jaw angled. For the rest—only time would tell. black hair gleaming in the fickle spring sun. She had only to recall the way Patric's touch had affected her—talk about sensual overload! The physical hunger was real and honest. Why don't you cut me a lettuce from the garden? The big Iceberg would be best. Mummy. rooted in her longing to wipe out the attack? Ah. 'Great. 'Would you like to make the dressing?' . can I go over to Rangi's place and play with his computer?' 'We're going there for dinner tonight.But Nick was having none of this.' Being trusted to use a knife was a big deal. As Nick came towards the back door. filled with triumph. I'm going to make a salad to take with us. An inconvenient blast of maternal love shook her. When it was done he stood up and grinned at her. 'P'raps he hurt his leg or something. Kate wondered whether she was trying unconsciously to revert to the girl she'd been before Sean Cusack's brutality had shattered some fundamental trust in her. Kate watched from the window as he carefully cut through the stem of the lettuce. Was her response to Patric a hold-over from the past. 'He would be. no. Make sure you hold the knife the way I showed you.' she said as Nick came carefully through the door. Did she have the right to set off down a path that might hurt them both? Her volatile emotions seesawed between fierce protec. and Nick took his responsibilities very seriously.

It would be simpler if she could fool herself into thinking that Patric might have marriage in mind. Only.While he measured the ingredients for the dressing she ran the lettuce under the tap.' Nick said. thin teatowel around the lettuce and set off to swing it outside. . Perhaps he did. 'but I'm sure he noticed how good you looked. How badly hurt would Nick be if the affair died into nothingness? Perhaps she should take no risks at all. 'It's ready. He groaned. be thirty-six. but asked. Could she marry him? A feverish. she'd. compelling hunger arced through her. jf she was sure he loved Nick. 'Mmm?' 'Do you think Mr Sutherland knew these are my new shirt and trousers?' 'He might not have realised they were new.' He nodded and went into his room. flag away any chance of fulfilment until he'd left home.' Kate said practically. How about tidying up your bedroom?' She folded an old. 'Do I have to go and wash?' 'You look pretty clean to me. breaking into her depressing thoughts. Twelve years from now. she thought stoutly. 'Mummy?' She recognised that tone. He set down the jar and grinned.

The lettuce-filled cloth swished through the air. and I'll put it in with mine?' 'All right.' he said virtuously. at the evocative. disappearing back inside. Why don't you write a letter to thank Mr Sutherland for lunch. Kate glanced at her watch. In many ways she'd progressed no further than the naive eighteen-yearold who'd been seduced with ravishingly tender passion by her fairytale prince and then brutalised by the villain.' 'Have you tidied your bedroom?' 'I picked up my toys. she thought crossly. And even if Nick hadn't shown that worrying possessiveness she probably would have agreed. if she wanted freedom from that emotional tie she was going to have to follow this through. she wanted much more than that. 'We've still got some time. Kate crouched to smell the last exquisitely scented freesias.' he said. face facts. spraying drops of water across the small lawn as Kate admired the fat crimson buds on Anna's climbing rose. . Oh. Damn the man. Somehow she and Patric were linked. poignant perfume the past surged over her in a titanic wave of mingled joy and grief and despair. He'd been right when he'd told her she was imprisoned in the past. Patric had chosen the right time to ask her to go out with him— taking her by surprise and demanding a quick answer. because she wanted to go out to dinner with him. 'I'm ready to go now. Why had he seen her "in that theme park and tipped her life upside down? Nick called from the steps.

Kate's heart leapt into her throat. 'Thank you. It would be too easy to let herself lean on that . Saturday found both she and Nick prickly with anticipation. Five minutes after the game started she heard her name. which is why I'm late. the Way he shut out everyone else. Auckland must have decided to go north for the day. Did you have a good trip up?' 'I was surprised at the traffic. untamed fire within her.' For a second—for a fraction of a second—she tensed. adding inanely. his dominating physical impact.' she said. Forcing herself to remember that there were people— friends. 'You got here. 'Hello. obsessive desire. interested onlookers—standing close by.' The sunlit air danced before her eyes. lighting a slow. He was smiling. Get that out of the way and perhaps—just perhaps—she might be able to meet Patric on equal terms.The experience had left her locked into a frustrated. Colour heated her skin as she turned and saw Patric. and his eyes gleamed with a dangerous metallic sheen. Bubbling with excitement.' he said.' 'I had excellent instructions. she said demurely. Nick gave no indication that he was disappointed not to see Patric—that wasn't his way—but his mother knew. he sat beside her in the front of the Mini as it filled up with two other children. 'You look like spring. overwhelmed by his size. When they reached the sports ground Kate's heart ached at his swift glance around the small group of parents and children. his smile widening a fraction as he stopped beside her.

'She can kick the ball further than the big boys. The tension of their last meeting dissipated in eager encouragement as the two teams of small boys tussled for supremacy on the muddy field. and Nick flushed even more hotly. rushed across. crimson-cheeked and mud-streaked. Mr Sutherland. 'Hello. Nick.' It was clearly an accolade of the highest order. I suspect. 'I remembered what you told me.' Patric's voice was amused as they both turned to the game. You played well. The game over.' he said. 'Hello. 'But never tell him that—he thinks he's pretty near perfect.' Pride glowed within her. 'Nick writes very well for a sixyear-old.' . 'Thank you for the letter. but for all their sakes she had to keep her independence.the man outside you scored.' Nick nodded. Kate watched as Nick.' 'Most children of his age find it difficult to accept that they have faults. 'I didn't get a try.' Nick jumped in the air for sheer excitement. but you stayed in position and passed the ball so that .' She laughed a little. and the required cheers given and received. 'He does. That was good team play. She's cool.' 'No.' 'Is she your coach?' 'Yes.' he shouted as he reached them. Sister Mary-Louise said I played well. doesn't he? His teacher says he's extremely bright.masculine strength.

in you get.' . Sometimes she and Nick went up to Kerikeri to spend it with her cousin. Nick fizzing with delight. Twenty minutes later. saying. 'One more game to go. she headed for home. Parrying it with an impersonal smile. one of the boys with her asked Kate.While Kate collected her passengers Nick and Patric walked ahead. 'No.' Nick observed. Patric smiling and relaxed.' Patric said. squirming beneath the seatbelt. You can ring him up and tell him. Kate nodded and got into the car. 'If it's warm enough we can go swimming at the beginning of next month. he's a friend. 'Is that Nick's father?' These children knew the realities of modern relationships. Anticipation. and then—too soon—it would be Christmas.' 'I'll see you back at the house. both boys delivered into their parents' custody. What would Patric be doing this Christmas? 'I'll ask Mr Sutherland if I can come with you tonight. stirred in the pit of Kate's stomach. she unlocked the doors. 'OK. Do you think my old togs will fit me?' 'Probably not. but this year Juliet and her family were going to the South Island to spend the holiday with her sister Jenny. 'Rangi won't mind if I don't stay with him. so you'll be able to wear your new ones. As they came up to the car. and make sure you do those seatbelts up. Patric gave her a level.' Kate said. enigmatic glance that -shivered through to her toes.' Next month was November. keen as a needle.' Nick said casually as they swung into their small street.

When at last they came out into the sunlight Nick asked. Kate realised with a small shock that he didn't seem out of place amongst the noisy families and silent elderly couples. After Nick had eaten his fill they visited the Clock Museum. 'Can we go to the Museum of Fishes?' Kate glanced at her watch and shook her head. Perhaps his attitude was a carry-over from his initial belief that Nick was his son.' Kate said calmly.' he said. adding with his best smile. fascinated son's questions. patiently explaining how the clocks worked. entering into his enthusiasm—and listening when Nick told him all he'd learned about wave action. he had a rare ability to dominate his surroundings.' Nick opened his mouth to protest. 'Where would you like to go to lunch?' he asked. curious. and smiled down at Nick. and Nick forgot about his campaign for the present. then thought better of it. He got out of the car as they came up. 'We can go there next time. Sitting opposite Patric.' He sent her a darkling look. Kate tried very hard not to build too much on it. can't we?' . mould them to fit him. Apparently as intrigued as Nick with the splendid array of clocks. and would have returned to the fray if Patric hadn't been waiting for them outside the house. 'All right. Or perhaps he really liked children. 'And even ruder to go where you haven't been invited.'It would be incredibly rude of you to break your word to Rangi. Patric answered her determined. They went to a fast-food restaurant. 'We have to go now.

to the MacArthurs' house. watching him with a critical eye.'We'll see.' 'I haven't heard of that one.' 'Pity.' Ngaire said. Who are you going out with?' 'An old friend. well. Just don't get here tomorrow morning before nine.' he said calmly.' When Ngaire looked thoughtfully at Nick. Flustered.' 'It's a place called Seabird. 'It's in the Bay of Islands.' An hour's drive to the north. 'Oh. 'He seems a bit down. All right. 'That place is supposed to be absolutely gorgeous—very exclusive—and the food spectacularly wonderful. Nick and Rangi will. 'Oh. Kate added hastily. 'It must be new. 'So do I. 'Where are we eating tonight? I'll need to leave the phone number with Ngaire Mac Arthur.' Kate said noncommittally. 'Everything all right?' 'He wants to come too.' she said. OK?' .' she said with feeling.' Ngaire said cheerfully. Kate said. with his favourite green dinosaur and a bag of necessities. disappearing rapidly through a door with the two youngest MacArthurs.' Kate said with a wry smile. Ngaire's eyes widened. 'No. have a great time. She turned to Patric.' At five o'clock she delivered Nick. She handed over a sheet of paper with the name of the restaurant and the number.' 'It's not in Whangarei.

'If they get treated badly they take off—and so they "should.' she said.' Ngaire said with ruthless practicality. 'And wives no longer love unconditionally. 'It's not good for boys to grow up believing they're the one shining star in their mother's heaven. while everyone else enjoyed their Sunday lie-in. I don't think you need to worry about Nick. because no woman is going to live up to the adoring mother who loves them unconditionally.' Ngaire went on. It makes them arrogant and dissatisfied. 'Have fun. their golden son—hadn't grown up arrogant and dissatisfied. Ngaire gave her a swift. eating an eclectic breakfast as they watched a video. chaotic MacArthurs she'd arrived at eight next morning to pick him up.' . 'You deserve it. Of course their love hadn't been unconditional. Now off you go and get yourself pretty for tonight.' 'Besides. 'I know. he's a love. perceptive glance.' She'd never been allowed to forget that the first time Nick had stayed with the happy. they'd more or less forced him to marry Laura. 'I promise. noisy. even if they are. Laura had been an extraordinarily beautiful woman— lushly sophisticated even as an adolescent.' But Patric—the focus of his parents' hopes and love and aspirations.Kate laughed. In spite of that determined chin. and if you haven't made yourself a life by then you'll miss him unbearably. He and two of the boys had been ensconced in front of the television.' Her Mend's injunction hit uncomfortably close to home. though. He'll be all right. One day Nick's going to grow up and leave you. Kate wondered how much persuasion had been needed.

After Kate had bought it in the shop's sale she'd searched until she found silk the exact shade of her skin and had carefully sewn a lining into it. Kate pulled it over her head and settled it around her shoulders. Another reason for the ensemble not to sell—it was difficult to classify.' Kate spent the next half-hour dithering in front of her wardrobe. too informal in design for the occasions its cut and superb material suggested. Mummy.wearing qualities. with no sleeves and a deep vee neck. which was probably why it hadn't sold. How glad she was that the boutique owner had allowed her delight with the outfit to override her commercial instincts! Otherwise Kate would have had to go out with Patric in clothes chosen for their practicality and hard. and youthful yet expensive. 'Yes. What would he think when he saw her? . Bye. Dreamed up by a designer famous for his slinky. you have a good time. Without a trace of regret he said. Kate had loved it on sight. In the end she wore them because they were the most sophisticated clothes she possessed. but somehow didn't seem entirely suitable for a place as chic and exclusive as Seabird. Complementing the top were silk trousers—loosely fitting and with a faintly oriental air. revealed a lot of skin. 'It's perfectly decent. erotic clothes.Nick reappeared on a wave of children and dogs to give her a swift hug. The top and trousers she'd selected looked good on her.' she told her reflection in the small mirror. it was meant to be worn without lining or bra. eyeing the slight swell of her breasts beneath the material. The soft mesh-knit top in her favourite pale green.

As the doorbell pealed colour drained from her face. but she had neither. . Picking up the narrow clutch that doubled as her evening bag. You should never have agreed to this. it was past time to accept the challenges life offered. slippery mass of her hair back with a satin ribbon the same subtle green as her clothes.Ruthlessly subduing the hot excitement that clutched her stomach. Perhaps common sense was right. She tied the thick. she checked herself in the mirror. common sense said calmly. The tunic probably should have earrings to set it off. slightly darker than her skin. sensible announcement. She'd been sensible for almost seven long years. but a flame of rebellion in her ignored that dreary. You fool. and a hint of gentle shadow to emphasise her eyes. She'd left her face naked except for a slick of lipgloss. or a thin gold chain around her neck. she slid her feet into low-heeled black pumps and set her chin.

unfelt shackles from hef soul. Suddenly free. 'And like all people who pry he suffered for it. almost as though he had somehow managed to strike invisible. 'Who was Melusina?' she asked. 'You look like Melusina—a very young Melusina.CHAPTER NINE ALTHOUGH informal. And you'd think these mythical characters—Melusina and Bluebeard and their ilk—would learn from each other. Whatever. of hope. intent survey of her face he said quietly. because she wasn't human. narrow hips and long. Nothing whets a human's curiosity more than being told not to do something—it's practically an open invitation. He took her arm and walked her towards the gate. She fell in love with a French noble and married him on condition that he should never see her on a Saturday.' A shift of perception—subtle but irreversible—took place within Kate. their skilful cut and fine materials emphasising wide. but he couldn't resist the temptation?' 'Naturally. Of course she was exquisitely beautiful. she was a serpent.' 'A mermaid has charisma. After a quick.' 'So he promised faithfully never to peep on a Saturday. Or a mermaid— history's not exactly clear. keeping position so that she stayed on the narrow concrete path while he was on the grass.' he said drily. 'A French water spirit. buoyant—floating in a sea of expectation. masculine shoulders. and he spent the rest of his life mourning her. 'but I don't think I like being compared to a serpent.' . Patric's clothes were tailored for his lean body.' Kate said thoughtfully. she fled from him. she felt light. locking the door behind her. heavily muscled legs.

He broke into the silence. 'Thank you. I suppose I hoped understanding you would give me some power. almost expressionless. 'Everyone has things they'd rather not talk about. Unsteadily she said. he said.' 'Of course. 'As the Americans say. unbidden feelings. yet they hide secrets. almost airily.' 'Power?' She was shocked. I'm sure Melusina was an infinitely seductive and alluring serpent with no idea of her power. straining against the bars that will-power and discipline imposed on her emotions and her thoughts.' Patric smiled but his voice was satirical. I think. edgy with the leashed violence of desire. . 'They were a stupid lot. smoothly sensual voice prowled latent emotion.He laughed and put her into the car. Swiftly. she got out. An answering wildness flared into life inside her. Tension stretched between them. you're welcome. Once they were heading northward through Whangarei's quiet suburbs. his voice even. like you. and dwindled into a blur of brilliant red as the vehicle purred through the night. 'Your eyes are so clear. Seven years ago I wanted to find out what those secrets were.' A momentary flash of fear kicked in the pit of her stomach. 'but in those days I was desperate to know what you thought and felt.' Beneath the deep. And if she was a serpent. swished by. dancing force that pulsated with unspoken thoughts.' he said. runaway sensations. I still do. a stark.' Lights swung towards the car. A siren.

Most of all I wanted to know whether you felt the same way about me.' Kate's skin tightened. yet I knew you were too young to make any sort of commitment. Kate? I was utterly defenceless and I hated it—^t had never happened to me before. Until we made love.' 'You must have known I did.'Oh. thinking back to the transparent child she'd been. You were always unfailingly kind—to the local kids.' Kate stared blindly into the dark. This was what it must be like to walk on the lip of a volcano. You gave them die gift of your smile and your interest. almost angry glance. Girls liked you too. What had he learned then—that she was totally. I knew then—or thought I knew. knowing that one slip could lead to disaster. 'You blew my mind away with your sweet passion. You went serenely on your way. 'Didn't you realise. 'That last year I was just an ordinary girl well out of her depth.' He gave her a sardonic. and left them all wanting more. but . Swallowing the coppery taste in her mouth. I couldn't get enough of you. 'How could I? I knew you liked me. I shouldn't have made love to you.' 'Hardly. Ordinary girls flirted and fluttered their eyelashes and posed elegantly in their briefest clothes. although they were baffled by your refusal to join in their ploys and games.' he said roughly. completely in love with him? That she had no defence against his experienced sexuality? 'The world stopped for me. she said the only thing she could think of. to anyone who stayed at Tatamoa. All that summer I wondered whether it was my imagination—and hormones—that made me believe you felt more for me than for anyone else. but you seemed to like everyone. yes.' she protested. You were even kind to my contemptible cousin Sean before he tried to kiss you.

Kate?' 'No. 'I'll tell Patric. Kind though his parents had been to their farm manager's niece. she couldn't have gone to him carrying Sean's child in her womb. In her innermost heart. fleshy face filled with a despicable glee. Numbed by shock and an all-pervading sense of degradation. .' 'I was very depressed that term at Christchurch. Did I frighten you so much that you couldn't bear to see me again. of knowing what to do and how to do it.' she said. 'I couldn't think of any other reason for you to break it off.' he'd taunted. his handsome. stuck-up bitch!—but sooner or later I'll tell him that I've had you. He's a possessive bastard and he hates me.I didn't have the self-control to pull back. Intelligence and common sense weren't all that were necessary in the world over which Pilar Sutherland held sway. Sean's threats had sickened her and humiliated her. so that's going to really get him where it hurts!' He would have done it. 'I might let him marry you—and wouldn't that give Laura a kick in the teeth. Kate had known—had understood since before their first kiss—that she wasn't fit for life as Patric's wife.' His mouth thinned. they certainly didn't want their son to marry her. 'Of course you didn't. choosing her words carefully. for three months she'd been lost in pain. and she couldn't have allowed herself to be the weakness that exposed Patric to that humiliation. Sophistication and the gloss of social confidence. Disgusted and shamed. were every bit as important.' she said in a low voice. beneath the dreams and the desire and the heat of love.

the physical and hormonal changes of pregnancy had taken her over. Then. By May I knew— I was—' Her voice splintered. Kate realised she was holding her breath. Had she somehow blamed him for not protecting her? No. each muscle clenched as though he was in intolerable anguish. he steered the car around one of Northland's notorious curves. a silence thick with old pain.After that last. impeded breath. she said. 'Your father was dying! Of course I didn't expect you to dance attendance on me. then shielded her eyes as the oncoming lights flicked onto full and down again. driving everything but the need for survival from her mind. Coughing to overcome the ache in her throat. mercifully. no. I couldn't marry you when I was pregnant with another man's child.' Had she blamed him for abandoning her? Oh. shattering meeting with Patric she'd gone back to Christchurch because it was as far away as she could get from Tatamoa. 'I've always felt I abandoned you when I left Tatamoa the day after we'd made love. and raped her. never that! But after Patric left his cousin had come to Tatamoa. in the glare of its lights Patric's face was revealed—icily rigid. You had to go. not for going to his father. She dragged in a deep. Silence enveloped them. Sean was responsible for his own actions. in the end it had simply been easier to turn her back on the wHble situation and strike out unencumbered by the weight of the past. 'Patric—' .' Hands gripping the wheel. In a toneless voice Patric said. 'Patric. lured her to the homestead with the promise of a letter from Patric. Kate flinched. A car sprang out of the darkness.

you and I. She should let him concentrate on his driving. 'I was damaged. Anyway.even if nothing had happened it wouldn't have worked. the words were rasped by a raw undernote. 'I would have married you. I didn't know how to be any sort of wife. his voice hoarse with anger. smashing any prospect of a future for them. Swallowing them. 'Why didn't you tell me?' he demanded between his teeth. He said harshly. until he said with a compelling . 'The past's past.' No. she said. I wanted to marry you more than anything in the world.' 'I had only one demanding male to deal with. 'Kate. Let's leave it there. even without.' 'You'd have coped. Patric—too hurt and degraded to know what I was doing. especially not for a man in your position. For several minutes they drove without speaking. 'I'd trust you to deal with anything! Look at the way you managed with Nick. Noiseless. forbidding them life. trying to lighten the atmosphere.But he'd already dipped their lights. desperate words rasped her throat.' Although his voice was level.' A scurry of rain spattered against the windscreen.. but how would he have dealt with the knowledge that his cousin had raped her? What would it have done to a family already agonised by the prospect of Alex Sutherland's death? Because if they'd married sooner or later Sean's malice would have spilled over and he'd have told Patric. I was far too young. Kate. it was so unlike him to forget to dip.' she returned.. you must have known I wouldn't blame you. Kate exhaled. I only married Laura—' He stopped and swore. The oncoming car gave a swift toot on the horn as it surged past them.

was a silhouette of strength—straight forehead. the sweep of nose. Without taking his eyes off the road. and I understand. 'You didn't. By the time they reached . 'This time I won't make the mistake of valuing money and power over you. She stared down at her hands. 'Kate. making him smile by recounting several of Nick's more memorable exploits—and as the minutes slipped by and the traffic thinned out tension began to seep from her. Scared. She stole a sideways glance. 'You put one sort of love over another. Kate.' he said. I imagine he knew that Sutherland Aviation needed both you and Laura's father— he must have been desperately worried. His profile. trying to repress the shiver of delight that ran through her. almost shaky. pressing a kiss to the palm before replacing it in her lap. Now. Unless she was mistaken. 'And even less excuse for me to give in to it.' "That was no excuse for blackmailing me. the male beauty of his mouth and the uncompromising determination of jaw and chin.' Relieved. I want very much to leave the past where it belongs. his voice grim.intensity. Kate had expected him to suggest an affair. Patric found her hand and lifted it to his mouth. as long as my future has you in it. tell me what you've been doing these last few years. he was offering her much more.' he said uncompromisingly. she gave him a quick rundown on her life.' Kate's heart stopped in her chest.' Her voice sounded oddly muted. knuckles gleaming white in a frozen clasp. It would have been cruel to defy your father when he was so ill.' she said. I've learned my lesson. starkly outlined against the night outside.skipping the worst bits. 'I—would like that too.

spicy perfume she'd never smelt before.mown grass.' Kate said on a half-laugh when they stood together in the cramped sitting room. restrained sophistication looking out onto shimmering.. He knew Nick wasn't there.the star. Later.' Her voice sounded flat almost strained. glittering and powerful and intense. fragile hope. Patric came in with her and checked out each room. always beneath the stimulating conversation and the potent communication of eyes raced a current of need.. with its terrors and its singing. disciplined mind and personality. is. And always. 'With Anna and Ngaire's help. 'You've made a pretty garden.' he said. he walked her to the door while a slow excitement built within her. outside her unit.land-dotted waters. the wet fragrance of new. with his voice. with his eyes—narrowed and intent—and with his conversation.silvered Bay of Islands she was filled with a bright. Its scents floated around them. in surroundings of quiet. she finally surrendered completely to that helpless. marooning her on the cusp between frustration and fulfilment. piercing hunger—both physical and emotional—and the fierce elation that came from exploring Patric's keen. 'It's perfectly safe. That night Patric wooed her with his attention. some intense. Without looking at him she unlocked the door. . headlong tumble into love. a fugitive sweetness of flowers. helter-skelter. Over the ambrosial food.

'Kate. 'I couldn't keep you safe then—I don't want the same thing to happen again. the past had been dealt with. She honoured him for his control.' he said. frequent caresses that were far from sexual yet set her on fire—showed that he was gentling her like a nervous . Unevenly he said. Closing her eyes. Yet in the following weeks that hunger grew into torment. intensifying each hour she spent with him. he was giving her time to overcome her natural fear about making love. of his mouth. I'll see you next weekend. and she could have cried out in rebellion when he lifted his head.' Without thinking she put her hand on his sleeve. So.'I lost you once. the reality of Patric Sutherland. Yet Patric's tenderness and restraint satisfied some long-lost part of her. the pressure of his hands. although she relearned the strength and power of need and passion. Kate breathed in the scent and taste of him. Desire coursed through her. the fleeting. she was content to travel slowly down the path to delight. unbreakable chains until she thought the wanting would drive her crazy. and put his hands on her shoulders and bent to kiss her with a curbed passion.' she said quietly. Yes. 'I have to go back to Auckland tonight. His tenderness when he touched her—the subtle mastery of his hands on her skin. now they needed to find the path to their future. she wondered why he'd pulled back. But she told herself they needed the breathing space. robbed of its capacity to hurt.' Disappointed and surprised. and for the first time she believed that it really was: the past had been faced. when she'd been barely more than a child. 'It's over. It was as though they were reliving his first courtship. hot and untamed and slow. binding Kate with fragile. and he had moved from big brother to lover.' he said.

Kate thought. Nick had become fascinated by the idea of plants growing in the sea. and were looking at her with the same quizzical expression.' Patric informed him. .filly. As spring warmed into summer he came north most weekends. When Kate saw their two heads so close together her heart shivered. he knew now that she wanted him—that she was ready for their relationship to deepen? How did you tell a man that without losing your dignity? 'You look funny. quicksilver boy—along the foamy line where the waves washed onto the soft apricot sand. While she'd been lost in a daydream they'd come up. "That's her mermaid smile. but he was also collecting shells. that she wouldn't be repelled by his passion. surprising her. wonderful with her son. Occasionally Patric would crouch down level with Nick. so it was usually seaweed.' Nick said. the lithe. Tonight she and Patric were going out to dinner as they had most Saturdays since he'd come up the first time. He continued to be. she thought yearningly. the calls becoming more intimate as they grew to know each other. It didn't seem to worry him that Nick was the child of the man who had raped her—carefully. impressive man. cleverly. Surely. and they'd pore over whatever took their interest. and he rang several times a week. They were walking—the tall. to the thousand sensual signals of his body. he'd forged a friendship. six weeks after that first dinner in the Bay of Islands as she watched him from the shelter of a sun umbrella. When they finally did make love she would be so attuned to him.

She'd worn her togs beneath her shirt and shorts. 'She hasn't got a tail. Turning slightly under the pretence of supervising Nick.' Kate let him pull her to her feet. 'Look!' he shouted. He dropped his hand as soon as she was upright. 'Beat you in. but his index finger lingered across her palm. but the dark green hugged her and she knew she looked good in if. 'Don't talk about me as though I'm not here. . and was completely confident in it. tickled her ankle and emerged.' He held out his hand. 'Lovely. she challenged Nick. sprinting down the beach. his halfclosed eyes sweeping Kate's legs. involuntary shiver. and dived down to Kate's feet. judging her speed so that they plunged into the surf at the same time.' Need kicked her with exquisite precision in the pit of her stomach. Kate set off after him. But Patric had seen her swift.' 'Some mermaids look just like human beings. bubbling and boisterous.' Patric said. 'The water's warm enough to swim in.' she said. you won't. she stripped off her shorts. drawing her down into a relentless longing. and normally she wouldn't have been at all concerned about pulling her clothes off. fleeting caress made her acutely self-conscious.' he said. her bathing suit was old. he said in a voice roughened by a hidden hunger. that tiny. long and winter-pale.' 'No. 'They're the dangerous ones. He loved the water.Nick gave a crow of laughter. Without looking at Patric. However. beside her. Lashes drooping.

'I caught a mermaid.'I thought you were a fish!' He laughed. looking up. she thought dazedly. bronze shoulders gleaming in the sun. 'Did you see me. and looked at Kate. dragging her eyes away to gaze down at her son. addicting her further to his gentle caresses. 'but not that good. let's swim. her brain shut down. He looked like something out of the dawn of time.' And because she was exposing her emotions embarrassingly. smoothly muscled and sleek and incredibly compelling. Mummy's the best diver in the world. I can dive off the edge of the pool. Mr Sutherland?' Nick's voice jarred the silence. 'I'm a good diver.' he said. and when I'm eight she's going to show me how to dive off the boards.' Patric ruffled his hair. except for the Olympics. He wasn't crudely obvious. 'I know. 'No. but Patric was never far away.' she managed. only a mother. she added. the water up to his black briefs. At the sight of Patric. 'I dived down and touched Mummy's toes. Every time she looked up she met his eyes. but he used the games Nick insisted on as an excuse to touch her. It took all of her will-power to free herself from Patric's sensual spell. mesmerised and mute.' he said. Who was standing there. mouth dry with apprehension and thirst as though she'd wandered in a desert these last years and now at last could see the feathery tips of palms above the burning sands. .' Kate said. all male.' She stayed with Nick. glittering with the grey-black sheen of a gun barrel. 'Come on. pulses thudding.

'Mothers and fathers kiss each other a lot. 'Why did he kiss you like that?' It was Patric who answered. lean hands fastened onto her shoulders and pulled her upright. He glowered at her through wet.' . and the distant sound of Nick's voice.' he muttered. resolute eyes. and while she stared into a face set and hard and possessive Patric bent and kissed her fiercely. and flame seared across her. I don't breathe in when I go underwater. 'I'm going to be your father from now on. 'Do you want . He stared up into Patric's controlled face. he said harshly. 'Please!' Dimly her dazzled senses registered skin branded by his hands. 'I've run completely out of patience—I need you so much.' she said. 'Marry me. Kate. His wet hand slid into hers. and managed a smile. 'Yes. she couldn't answer. 'Mummy?' Nick demanded.a father. She looked into hot. and after a long. by his mouth. 'Did you get a mouthful of water?' 'No.' And when. spiky lashes. thunderstruck. backed by the impatient bray of a car horn on the road behind the beach.In the midst of a fast game of water tag Kate got caught by a larger than normal wave and tumbled over. through her. Immediately. charged moment nodded. He said truculently.' she said. Nick?' Nick turned his head. gripped. I didn't.' Patric said coolly.

In the car she covered her eyes with sunglasses. but 1 told him you were the best swimmer in the world.' .' she said lightly. she swam rapidly away from the beach. 'That's what Rangi calls his. her skin suddenly puckered with gooseflesh.' 'I know. keeping her eyes firmly away from him. and duck-dived beneath the next wave.' He touched Kate's arm. 'Mr MacArthur kisses Rangi's mum all the time. She looked at Patric. 'Oh. Kate's heart clenched.' he said. Leaving them to their game. rubbing his own towel across his shoulders. 'We thought Dad was what a boy of Nick's age should call his father.Nick stared at him.' he shouted. 'In the glovebox. After a few minutes she heard Patric call her name. 'Bet you can't catch me. poised on a knife. saw his smile. 'He was shivering. When Patric took Nick up to the car. 'Would you get me mine. reassured for the moment. trying to work through bewilderment at the unexpected proposal.' he said.' she said in a shaken voice.' he said offhandedly. Patric followed him. and realised she couldn't keep heading out to sea. leaving Kate to gaze foolishly after them. and had to blink to hide her tears. then swivelled his eyes to Kate's face. please?' Patric asked. 'Thank you. all right. 'Dad wanted to go out to you. By the time she got back to them Patric had persuaded Nick out of the water and into his clothes.' he said proudly.edge of disintegration. Nick peered at her. she dragged her clothes on and rubbed her face vigorously with the towel before following them.

she ordered Nick to the bathroom. 'I'd better go. glad that he gave her the excuse to pull away from Patric's too-forceful gaze. He traced the tiny frown between her eyes and said. pulsing joy. His eyes were intent. 'Yes. but insisted. None of them said a word about Patric's astounding declaration. 'Don't be late.' he said. 'It'll be all right. 'Off you go—now. at the same time as Patric's short. In the back seat Nick bounced around.' Carefully avoiding Patric's eyes.' Kate said. I'll go. By the time they arrived home Kate was being tormented by a mixture of shock and slow. before you shed any more sand on the floor. 'I'll pick you up at seven. Kate nodded. 'He'll need to be reassured over and over again. 'Can't I come too?' 'No.She found them and handed them over.' he commanded. 'You'll come and get me early in the morning?' 'Promise.' Kate said.' Nick disappeared into the hall and Patric said.' . but he's happy about it.' 'I know.' 'I'll be ready. 'You have an appointment with Rangi.' He chuckled. 'Would you like to shower here?' 'No.' From the doorway Nick asked. right this minute. probing. acutely conscious of the warmth of his fingers as he took them. Kate.' she said.'' Feeling cheated. and ruthless. Ignoring Nick's hovering presence. she asked politely. talking almost non-stop. he lifted Kate's chin. In the house.

really going to be my father?' 'Yes. 'No. Nick said. she'd barely begun to respond to the swift. 'I'd like to be tall as Mr Sutherland.'Is that the only reason you're marrying me? Because Nick's happy? There'll be times when he's not. and so was my mother. My father was tall. unchildlike looks. no. 'Good. transfixed by the blazing sensuality in his face. And. Kate.' she repeated against his skin.' Nodding.' 'I know that. the sound of the taps turned on full brought her back to herself. Nick gave her one of his grave. then added as though trying it out for sound.' Nick grinned. We'll deal with it.' she said. 'Dad.' he said. 'He knows about boys.' 'So he should. that's not why I said I'd marry you. 'Is he really. He Used to be one himself. tasting him. searing kiss when he stepped back and said.' . When she went in to check Nick's cleanliness he presented her with a scrubbed and glistening face and demanded. so although I'm not tall myself I might have handed on a few of those genes to you. she kissed the triangle of tanned skin at the collar of his shirt. 'I'll see you later. His hand lifted her chin. breathing out on his wet skin.' He hesitated. Reaching up.' Now she knew how a woman told ~ a man she wanted him. 'Will I grow as big as him?' 'I don't know.' and while she stared after him.

but why else would he ask her to marry him? He'd forgive her for lying to him. To put it in Nick's terms. he'd accept it. even Sean's mother had given up on him. She could not marry Patric without telling him who her son's father was. If he was the man she thought he was. She had to tell him tonight. And now he'd asked her to marry him.'Just be the best Nick Brown you can be. Yet when Patric had moved back into her life he'd almost taken it over.' That night. If not—then she'd manage. Such a short time ago. adding quickly. Starkly she thought she'd have to manage. she comforted herself. she couldn't marry him with that lie still between them. She should have told him when he'd said he wanted a future with her. Tonight. Sinking down onto the bed. each followed by a weekend that had gone by so fast she could barely remember the events. she realised with a vague sense of surprise. She would have to tell him who Nick's father was. with Nick safely ensconced at the Mac Arthurs' place. Poor Mrs Cusack. 'Bend your head forward so I can wash the salt and sand out of your hair. Patric hadn't said that he loved her.' she said. Perhaps she might find some sort of . And he'd make sure she never had to meet Sean again—from what Patjic had said. Just six elongated weeks. it simply wasn't fair. she stared at the floor. It would be all right. but she'd been a coward. she put on the same outfit she'd worn the night Patric had taken her to dinner in the Bay of Islands.

' he said as they drove through the small city. she urged herself. its north bank a. they'd weathered into jagged. Normally he stayed in a hotel. she'd tell him tonight.' Whangarei lay at the tidal limit of a drowned river valley. Yes. but at the moment they're in England. 'You'll meet Geoff and Sue Simpson one day. But before she could speak he said. Chilled by an odd sense of exclusion. dramatic hills known as The Heads. It would be wonderful to select from several gorgeous designer outfits. Patric arrived dead on time.consolation with the children Kate had every intention of giving Patric. Long dead. They offered me the house whenever I wanted to stay. Until she'd started working in the shop she'd worn mostly secondhand clothes. 'I thought we'd eat at the house I'm staying in. At least the garments in it now suited her. 'Where is it?' 'The Heads. Kate dried her hair and got into her clothes. wishing she had more of a choice. Ignoring a craven clutch of panic.' . she asked. after he's negotiated this set of traffic lights.series of volcanoes forced millions of years previously through the earth's mantle. stunning and provocative and glamorous. but her wardrobe reflected her tight budget. Tell him now. their rock faces and sharp outlines a formidable hurdle for the sun each morning.

It would be easier to confess when he wasn't concentrating on the road. almost alarming. the sea dazzled to the horizon. What would you like?' Grateful for the respite. 'Both. exquisitely furnished sitting room. he poured her a fragrant Riesling.'I already know Mrs Simpson as a customer. His wife ran a flying school and bought most of her very elegant clothes in Auckland and Australia.' Patric said. and on to Great Barrier Island and its rugged inner companion. 'Impressive. grown on the stony plains of Marlborough. wishing she had more sophistication. Glittering. she chose white wine. 'I'm glad you like her. set high above the tidal estuary so that it looked south across Bream Bay to the Hen and Chicken Islands.' Coward! Patric smiled at her. all stark angles and bold juxtapositions of colour. Little Barrier.' Kate said.' Geoffrey Simpson was now a very successful solicitor. 'The house or the view?' She turned away from the window to glance around the huge. It was exciting. Her nerves were jangling. Her eyes lingered on a picture. and her voice sounded colourless.' Kate looked determinedly out of the side window. limitless. Kate knew they lived in a lovely house. working in his father's practice. she discovered that it was truly fantastic. She'd wait until they got to the house. and . 'Geoff and I went to school together. compelling.' She didn't mention that the owner of the shop had made it clear that Mrs Simpson was important. 'I'll get you a drink. Tell him now. 'She's nice.

' The whisky glass rang as he set it down on the glass side table.' Clutching the glass.' She had to answer. 'He admires you enormously.' But his eyes were hooded. I hope. "That's a stupid question.' .' And.' Patric said conversationally.' 'Fortunately for me. He hadn't touched her since he'd picked her up. I imagine he's telling the MacArthurs all about it right now. Kate. Carefully she set the glass down.' the cool. almost spilling the wine. 'I was wondering whether you were regretting having asked for it. 'You know better. a formidable control keeping them blank. Her hand jumped. Upright in a black leather Wassily chair. 'Nick is still thrilled. I'd have tried to change his mind. 'What would you have said if Nick had hated the idea?' Before she could speak he said curtly. Forget it. watching her from heavy-lidded eyes. 'You're not thinking of going back on your promise this afternoon. In spite of the fine tremor in her hand she picked up the glass and swallowed a large mouthful of wine. Something's eating at you. 'I don't know.whisky and water for himself. 'Patric—I need to tell you about Nick's father.' Now! But he asked without emphasis. Kate sipped the superb wine and tried to forget her hollow foreboding. she said. pronouncing each word with circumspection. 'No. 'I'd like to know what your problem is. dark voice prompted. So now.' she said. because that seemed a cavilling response. she added.

Kate was just about to jerk away when his arms contracted and he took her mouth in a kiss stripped of everything but passion and hunger. 'I don't need to know anything more than you've already told me. 'I—I have to—' 'I don't want to hear. I have everything I've ever wanted. his face under such rigid control it could have been carved in stone.' Intent. Kate looked up into narrowed. molten eyes. beautiful mouth. and stood on her toes so that she could touch her lips to his hard. instead he held her close until the comfort only he could give her. 'I won't break. My Kate. into nothingness. she stammered. Her fears faded and shimmered into mirages. 'Kate. She trusted him.Ignoble relief flooded through her. and realised with a jumping heartbeat that he was going to let her take the initiative.' His voice was inflexible. For a second memory intruded—a memory of rough hands and jeers. he came across to her and pulled her gently to her feet. Time stretched.' he said eventually. It doesn't matter.' But he made no effort to kiss her. Vaguely she thought she sensed the second his self-control broke. obdurate. lingered.' she said. 'What?' 'Just—Kate. He didn't say anything. worked its magic. but she couldn't accept it Whitelipped. This was Patric. His lips were firm and totally unresponsive. Bewildered. For ever this time. of helplessness and pain and degradation—and then it flickered and died. It was followed almost immediately by the breaching of her .

his hands—flowed sweet and languorous as honey. her head spinning. In a voice that trembled. 'Now do you understand how I feel about you?' His voice was guttural as he fought to master himself. Sensation flooded through her.' he said thickly. autocratic cheekbones. His lips were a little blurred by that fierce kiss. Kate's spine tingled into meltdown. tracing his straight mouth with her fingertip. Although she had no protection. swift ecstasy. gleaming eyes held hers for so long that h§r heartbeat surged into overdrive. Half-closed. 'I won't rush you as I did last time. yet at the same time pierced her with a sharp. 'I'm not an eighteen-year-old girl now. 'That was a long time ago.' she said. And she still had to tell him.' . and a trace of heat stained the high. she'd more or less invited him to make love to her. Patric. she nodded. Kate asked. Bewildered.own barriers. as she waited for his answer a remnant of practicality cooled her wildfire response. He broke the kiss to speak. 'Why?' He said. Suddenly shy. As she opened her lips beneath his she wondered vaguely how her response to Patric's mouth—to his scent and corded strength. she continued. She didn't need to hear the words— this was indication enough that he loved her. The dense colour of his pupils concealed his thoughts. without any resistance she surrendered the guarded citadel of her body and her heart. . 'Then I think we'd better stop.' Her heart swelled.

Only to you and to Nick.' And before she had time to remind herself of the reason they shouldn't make love yet. I have no other personal commitments. she said huskily. he said. Mouth moving with erotic finesse on her skin. This is important. he kissed her again and she yielded. 'Patric— darling—please listen to me.Gathering her courage in her hands. Kate. Please—' He bent and kissed the hollow beneath her ear. . helpless against the driving force of his sensuous persuasion. 'Hush.

Delicately she tasted him again. easy movement he scooped her up and carried her along the high white hall and into a bedroom cantilevered over the hillside. Stunned. unambiguous shapes of the extinct volcanoes against a sky robbed of all but the brightest stars. to the feverish drumming of her hunger. Kate turned her face into his throat. her body aflame. becoming one with it. Through huge windows Kate saw the moon rising. confident mouth that held such heaven.' he said. On a shuddering sigh Kate surrendered to his skilled hands. following a white moonpath across the black waters. How did he know that her breasts ached for the touch of his hands? When he slid his hand up under the lining of her singlet top she sighed with relief. Sensation shimmered through her. suspended between the sky and the sea. to his clever. the determined.' With one swift. silhouetting the stark. experienced mouth. 'But not here. wild and turbulent as the sea. waiting part. delighting in the flavour that was Patric—as much the man as the iron-blue sheen of his eyes. speeding from the skin beneath his hands to every hidden. . 'Motherhood suits you. his voice raw as he cupped the slight curves. and arched so that he could reach her more easily. remorseless surge of the ocean. like submitting to the powerful. 'Why don't you find out?' he suggested tautly.CHAPTER TEN MAKING love with Patric was like being engulfed by a hurricane— no. 'Have you changed too?' she asked against his neck.

'Patric. We're together again. 'No. He spread a handful of her hair across her throat. her senses thrilling as his chest lifted on a sharply indrawn breath. a nest. that's up to you.' she interrupted.' Almost inaudibly she said.' Raising lazy. disciplined voice. 'We've got . 'Of you with the moon on your face and that hair spread on my pillows. she undid the top button of his shirt and then the next. almost soundless voice. then kissed the vulnerable hollow where her pulse beat fast and high. 'Patric. desperate that their coming together not be overshadowed by the past.' Without moving he said. 'Do you want me to draw the curtains?' Almost seven years ago they'd made love in his parents' house. boneless hands. Curtains had covered the windows and the room had seemed a safe haven. if I'd known—' 'But you didn't. she felt secure only in this rich. it's over now. glorious present. and your Smile for me only. he asked in a tight. As he pulled the ribbon free from her hair and lifted the clinging tresses so that he could kiss her nape. Kate. I've got protection. The past's gone—done with. 'I used to dream of this. But that wasn't what she wanted now.Patric put her down on the bed. I want to give you a child.' he said in a quiet.' Blue flames-in his eyes swallowed the darkness. Wary of the dimness that obscured the future. in the bedroom he'd slept in since a child. 'Kate. Words lingered drowsily on her tongue. finished.

whatever I've been doing. and Nick—so much.' she breathed. Isn't that enough?' Without waiting for an answer.' Leaning forward.' . 'Patric. and yet I've never wanted any other woman so much. revealed the flexion of the long muscles in his arms when he pulled her singlet top over her head and looked at her with dark. 'Darling. scramble my brain. and pulled his shirt free. she kissed along the line of his shoulder. you showed me that it was nothing without love. generously. I've looked for you. You steal my strength. rejoicing as his heart thundered beneath her lips. my darling. because without you I was only half a man. and yet you gave yourself utterly. so much. reduce me to a mindless collection of driving hungers. 'I've spent nearly seven years starving for you. And you demanded the same from me— everything. and each other. flat eyes— eyes that devoured her with the same craving that ate into her heart.' he said through lips that barely moved.' he said. feeling the skin tighten. At twenty-four I rather prided myself on my understanding of women—thought I knew what passion was all about. 'Wherever I've been.' The moon's restrained light silvered the broad shoulders that tapered to narrow waist and hips.' she whispered. she kissed the skin she'd uncovered. 'Kate— it's so banal to say that you're beautiful.this. but it's the only thing I can say. kindle beneath her questing mouth. 'Kate. You were so young. 'I need you so much. his voice ragged with emotion he no longer tried to hide. That was the moment she really believed.

But we're together now. struggling through die languidly erotic sensations aroused by his mouth. Inside her. and each time I woke to loneliness. Sensation splintered through her like lightning. 'What is it?' he asked. worshipfully. they looked at each other.' Shaken. as the insistent heat and tug of his mouth quickened every cell in her body. she shivered as her feet touched the floor. We don't have to hide any more. you've haunted me. so gentle yet excitingly. his voice stripped of everything but raw need. he pulled her up and measured her waist with his hands for a breathless second before sliding them up again to cup her naked breasts. wild cry echoed desolately in the silent room. I know. some darker.' His features hardening into a bronze mask. she returned. and he bent his head and suckled her. her eyes dilated.Kate whispered. . 'Yes. shattering the last remnants of her will. Kate shivered at the strength of his long fingers. like participants in some ancient ceremony older than time. Patric. 'Nobody could be so sweet and sensual. Kate's heart lurched as she drowned in the depths of Patric's eyes. more urgent need began to demand fulfilment. Groaning. Night after night. elementally demanding.' Deliberately. he lifted her to meet the demands of his avid mouth. The strength and power of his arousal summoned a primitive desire.' Patric said unevenly. year after year.' he said hoarsely. 'I know. 'Sometimes I wondered if I'd dreamed you. His lips drew back in a humourless smile. 'I understand loneliness. Her strange.

as though she'd asked a question.making a salute to her youth and innocence.'Just you. 'Siren. wildly erotic concentration.' His eyes searched hers. then kissed it again. Kate flattened her hand over his heart and smiled at the sudden thunder beneath her palm. Confidence flowered in her.' he said. She measured it with her teeth. taking Kate into realms of the senses she'd only read about. All those years ago he had been tender. Leaning forward. All barriers surrendered. Exhilaration coursed through her when he shuddered. Not now. she went with Patric into that place where the only reality was his hands and his mouth and the sound of their hearts beating above the voluptuous clamour of her body. softly biting. receptive impatience.' he said on an impeded breath. Patric made love with a fierce. Urged on by a taut. Compelled by a desire he could no longer curb. all the security in the world. Kate kissed one of the small male nipples.coloured briefs beneath. . gentle. his love. where the slow slide of his mouth across her hipbone was worth more than all the pearls in the sea. 'Yes. Deftly he removed the sage-green trousers and the skin. where thought was replaced by instinct. A moment later cotton sheets cooled her as she watched the man she loved kick off the rest of his clothes and lie down beside her on the bed. because at last she knew Sean's violence hadn't frozen her natural appetite.

following the line of hair that pointed the way. 'Not yet. An instinct old as womanhood—an inborn understanding of seduction—stirred in Kate.' and trapped her exploring fingers in a peremptory hand. she'd been lying in a kind of stunned stasis. He muttered. involuntary breath. she arched up onto his strong shaft and began to pull herself around him. Her teeth found the smooth swell of muscle across his shoulder. the power of his whole body behind the compulsive initial thrust. the rasp of his shaven cheek quivering through her acutely susceptible body. She lifted heavy eyelids. Clasping her hands across his back. Without volition she lifted herself against him in silent. uncompromising— emphasised the stark framework of his face. without haste. Drugged by delight. then licked the small abrasion. Her name erupted in a predatory. enclosing him. Kate.' But that aching torment demanded satisfaction. her muscles working to embed him in the silken channel that longed for him. ' . His hair brushed against her. she took a sharp. 'Not yet.' he said huskily. half-closed eyes glittered.Patric turned his head to kiss the satiny top of her thigh. Hunger—dominating. his mouth was curved in a smile that owed nothing to amusement. He filled her so completely that although his caresses had ensured the softening and moisture needed to ease his entrance. then he surged into her. goaded monosyllable. insistent demand. Dark. now. she bit into the heated skin. 'No. she ran her hands from his chest down the flat muscles of his stomach.

trying to find some stable point in this maelstrom of passion. 'Yes. merciless reality pushed its way back into the enclosure of their love. inexorably.' . Kate's hands fastened around his shoulders. Helpless tears ached behind her eyes. The ripples expanded. deep down. Almost tentatively she clenched her inner muscles and he grated. his voice echoing in her ears while she fell into ecstasy.He said through gritted teeth. she began to strive towards some unknown apex of experience. his voice guttural and strained. Gradually. her body tightening as she met his thrusts and matched them. Kate forced her eyes open. Consumed by ripples of pleasure. hot skin delighting her fingertips until she forgot everything but the urgent rhythm of Patric's lovemaking and her own wild response. and as she was flung deep. gripping her in fiery bonds. 'Kate?' 'Oh. gasping his name. as waves of rapture spun her into some other dimension. like that. that humourless smile etched against his face. Aftershocks still shivered through Kate as slow.' she answered on a sigh. and yet any more could have tipped her over the edge into madness.. unravelling in a consuming tide of desire. Still breathing heavily. yes.' and began to move. He was watching her. head flung back. as the light rushed over her. drowning her in pleasure. sensation heightened. She came apart in his arms. Patric said.. he came with her. the slick. Not long enough. 'I hurt you. like that.' 'I'm all right. intensified. How long it lasted she never knew.

Neither said much. to do anything other than feel.But he moved over onto his side and scooped her to face him. poised on the border of spring and summer. and Patric lifted a hand to quietly. and into his voice came a sombre note. Patric had ripped her cloak of numbness from her. 'What is it?' he demanded. she'd been walking around in an emotional shroud. bright. 'I didn't know it could be like that. wholehearted passion.' she said. although her muscles protested . she thought dizzily. All these years.' 'Yes. 'How much did it hurt?' 'It didn't. 'A total. They drove home through a fresh. the memories of Sean's attack. made her whole again. sunsprinkled. stroke her hair. complete submersion that for precious. glistening dawn. She turned her face into his chest.' Nothing would ever hurt her again. unbearable moments makes me whole. She struggled to achieve a watery smile. finally and conclusively healing an injury she'd thought long mended. Relaxed. leaving her at the mercy of this ravishment that robbed her of the ability to think. with his skilful. He had restored her to herself.' Her voice trembled. 'Neither did I. he'd just stolen her heart from her body and banished. rhythmically.' he said. urgent. the words so filled with wonder that his expression relaxed. the dark eyes intent as they searched her face. At the town basin they stopped to drink coffee and eat fresh-baked rolls. she'd thought she was safe. Cut off from the sensual pleasures of physical contact.

the big vehicle purring down the suburban street. Miss me. His brows shot up. 'Did I sound too autocratic? Blame the way you look at me—as though I'm the sum of your hopes. I swear it. He lifted a hand and drove away. low and tender. 'Yes. Hugging herself. In the small mirror in the bathroom she thought she saw her dreams dancing around her in a golden haze.now and then. 'nothing will keep me from you.' he said. so happy she couldn't bear it.' he instructed.' He bent and dropped a quick. The sun gleamed blue-black on his head.' Kate said smartly. drawing her along into a future she had never hoped for. and come back to me. with a note of passion beneath the amusement.' 'Nothing. Inserting the key into her door. but I'll be home on Wednesday— I'll come^up then and we'll make plans. 'Travel safely.' She watched him stride down the path and get into the car. But they'd . It makes me feel like a king. 'And give your notice in at the shop. he said. resisting the temptation to cling. Kate floated inside. her heart so full no words seemed adequate.' 'Of course I'll miss you. You hold my heart in your keeping. my darling. Patric still saw her as the schoolgirl—innocent and untouched—he'd once known. Until then—keep safe. 'Stop that or I'll never get away. hard kiss on her lips. 'I have to go to Australia this afternoon. Kate could only look at Patmvher mouth still tender from his kisses. There'd be a period of adjustment. making the words a vow.' When Kate blushed he laughed. across the skin she'd kissed the night before. sir.' she said.

And he was already on the way to loving Nick for himself. Nothing but Sean. but I want to know all the details when you're ready to tell me:. with the kind of solid love that nothing could jeopardise. of course he wouldn't. her smile dying. refusing a cup of coffee with Ngaire.' . Her friend grinned.deal with it. 'Nick was fine.' Ngaire grumbled. because there was no way she'd blurt it out over the telephone. Appalled. At nine. who was still wandering gloomily around in her dressing gown. She should have insisted on revealing the truth before they made love. Patric might reject—no.' Slyly she added. if I'm going to get to church.' Kate blushed. Guilt plucked at her as she turned the water on and undressed. she stared at her reflection. This incandescent happiness was built on a lie. 'Oho! All right. ready to tell her. she picked Nick up. before they took the chance that might lead to another child. I won't ask. Making love to Patric had driven everything from her mind—she hadn't even thought about telling him after that. A smile curved her hps. I suppose. Now she'd have to wait until he came home from Australia. 'Not that I have time to drink coffee. last night had begun that process! There was nothing they couldn't do together. And I don't need to ask if you had a good time—you look like someone who's just discovered the meaning of life. then closed her mouth on the words. 'Nick said your Patric is going to be his new father.

and set off for school chattering about swimming and his ambition to dive. but you know fathers don't stay at home all the time. 'He didn't tell me until this morning.' Stubbornly he reiterated.' Kate said. 'He didn't tell me.' 'Yes. furious with herself for not confessing when she'd had the chance. 'Where is he? Where's Mr Sutherland—Dad?' Kate explained. scowling to hide his hurt. Monday passed in a kind of a daze for Kate. yet she couldn't feel that essential lightness.' Although rather silent for the rest of the day. Patric has to travel a lot. the . 'Mr MacArthur works in an office.'We've got a few things to straighten out first.' Nick said. girl. You deserve to be happy. an inner conviction. and that means he can't always stay home. Ngaire laughed. A life with Patric and Nick was spread before her. She knew she was happy. 'He should've told me. Nick woke up the next morning his usual sunny self. 'I hope it works out for you. longing to tell her. He has work to do in Australia. but not on the weekend. 'We'll be living with him in Auckland.' 'I thought he was going to be my father and live with us.' he said.' Nick protested.' They'd barely got out of the gate before Nick demanded. either. Mr Mac Arthur goes off to "work.

unexpected terror still smirched her happiness. I hadn't realised they still keep in contact—but at least Aunt Barbara has the sense not to welcome him back into the fold.' And because she felt ill she asked. 'Would you like to say hello?' 'Very much. He rang that night from Australia.' Handing over the receiver. . Normally I wouldn't have anything to do with him. 'Why?' 'You sound . yet she was unable to believe it—because she hadn't told Patric the one thing he should know. 'It's under control. 'I thought you didn't see him?' 'I don't. eyeing Nick who was hopping up and down impatiently. before telling her drily. but she stood like an impostor before it.' she said over a sick foreboding. And I have to do this—he's been using my name. 'I'm clearing up a mess of Sean's. but sudden.' Patric allowed a note of exasperation to show. So much to look forward to. The tightness in her throat eased when she drank it. 'Is Nick there?' 'Yes. but his mother asked me to tidy this up.' Abruptly he changed the subject.tired.' He paused.gold of bliss woven through with crimson threads of passion. 'Is everything all right?' Kate asked.' The name was like a foul miasma. Kate poured herself a glass of water. 'Oh.

I'll get her. The curtains were ones she'd made when she first came to Whangarei.' he informed her unnecessarily. and she could hear voices in the room with him. Patric said. She was overreacting. But this time she'd tell Patric whether he wanted to hear or not. her inexperience showed in puckered hems and uneven lengths. 'Take care. worried. Tense. Wooing sleep.' He held the receiver out 'He wants to talk to you. unsatisfactory call this time that left her even more restless than ever.' she said. I have to go now. in her own surroundings. Eventually she closed the book and looked around her bedroom. Quickly he finished. mocking her. as were all the rooms in the unit. so I can talk to Nick as well. she picked up a library book and tried to read. 'All right. 'Kate. she waited until Patric rang again oij Tuesday night. the cheap bedspread and secondhand furniture ample evidence of her . I'll try to ring you again this time tomorrow night.' He stopped. It was small. but I'll see you on Wednesday anyway. The words danced before her eyes. and replaced the receiver. Now. Sean couldn't harm her or Nick.' 'You too. a hurried. Her pulse-rate was soon back to normal. cross with whoever had interrupted because they'd denied her a proper farewell. but she'd never been able to afford to replace them. though it took a while for the lingering nausea to clear.After several minutes Nick said importantly. When she was with Patric she was sure they could overcome anything Fate threw in their path. and the wallpaper had faded in the harsh Northland sun so that each tiny sprig of flowers looked like a dagger pointing downwards.

She never knew what made her realise she wasn't alone—perhaps some alteration in the texture of the air. And there was always Sean. And Patric's response to the truth. His mother wouldn't welcome her. when—when she lived in Auckland she'd miss Ngaire very much. Kate didn't sleep that night. she set off for the back door. Oh. and every bird in Whangarei seemed to have caught the mating urge. stimulating a rush of adrenalin. By the time she'd turned towards the open back door Sean Cusack was inside. The day was cool and cloudy.poverty. Once inside she began to sort and store their contents. trying to enjoy the sound of a lovesick thrush coming through the open door. Fear lacked in her stomach. but a wife—she had never presided at a dinner party in her life! She had nothing in common with the sophisticated people he moved among. She didn't know how to be a wife to someone like Patric. she was excellent mistress material. she was afraid. or some hidden instinct warning her of danger. If so. She probably wouldn't even like them. so Nick went home with Rangi after school. Without thinking. it came far too late. but Whangarei was only two hours away—they'd be able to see each other frequently. she yanked out the kitchen drawer and snatched up her . The following day she had to work until four-thirty. with drizzly showers wafting between the hills. As she drove into the carport she thought that if—no. Arms filled with bags of groceries.

his large.' 'Get out.' 'Get out. Kate held the knife in front of hers but he must have seen something in her expression because he gave a long.' she said steadily. soft whistle and the handsome.' he jeered. silly mother told me he'd been paying a lot of visits to wnangarei. you know—there's always the possibility someone might be listening on an extension! Naturally. darling.' she said evenly. isn't he? And you've told Patric he's his.' Thank God Nick was at the MacArthurs'. 'Not on your life. all eagerness to find out exactly what was going on.' His voice was gleeful. 'So he doesn't know that you slept with me.' 'You can be thankful that he doesn't know you raped me. and there you were in the phone book! Does Patric know that your brat could be mine?' Stone-faced. I hopped onto a plane and followed Patric home. brave girl. too-pale eyes salaciously flicking the length of her body. 'God. 'Is that a nice way to greet a member of the family?' he drawled. so l looked you up. I laughed when I realised my noble cousin was seeing you again. 'He is mine. pretty Kate—you certainly know how to organise things to your advantage. 'Oh. fleshy face crumpled into laughter. I should have stuck with you. 'but you don't have to worry—I'm not going to touch you. 'If you come any further I'll see what damage I can do with this.' she said hoarsely. . My poor. You should be careful when you talk on telephones.carving knife.

' This man couldn't hurt her—she wasn't even afraid of him. 'You raped me.' 'Go away. she realised that he was laughing. 'You loved it—you only kicked up a fuss because you thought he might marry you.' Kate said with disdain. the words bursting bitterly from him. Incredulously. His brutality hadn't even been directed at her—he'd raped her because she was Patric's lover.' . Then he caught himself up. 'You know.' Her skin crawled. 'He thinks the kid's his—that's why he's marrying you.' he said. 'it wasn't as if you were a virgin. 'You wanted it.' she repeated. and the glitter in his eyes transmuted into calculation. What a shame. All he'd had of her was the unwilling use of her body.A momentary unease drained some of the colour from his skin. 'Try telling my cousin that and see if he believes you. determined to make sure he never touched her again.' he sneered. Anyway. his colour faded.' Scarlet-faced. He's always been jealous because I'm better-looking than him. gasping with enjoyment.' he said. Once you're hitched he'll ignore you just like he did Laura. I think—I really think— that it's my cousinly duty to tell Patric. My arrogant. he stared belligerently at her. it was Patric he hated and envied. and it was Patric and Nick she had to protect. and you knew I had no money. You're nothing. watching him intently. Sean. We'll see how high he holds his head up then.' he said viciously. 'Oh. 'Anyway. This is brilliantly rich. he doesn't care about you. stuck-up cousin will just hate bringing up another man's bastard—especially mine. 'You can't make any more trouble. this is rich.

If you want to keep your hands on my big cousin and his spectacular bank account you can bloody well pay me. 'Of course. I dare. Kate could discern his pathetic pride in being related to the Sutherlands. it only comes down to your word against mine—and he's not trusting where women are concerned.' He flung back his head and laughed. you snooty-faced little bitch. heavily underscoring his next words.' Anger flamed in his eyes. she said.' 'Oh. After all. you know.' Even though he was threatening her. whereas I'm family. Kate?' . so perhaps I won't tell him just yet. 'No. 'Why would he believe your lies? As for my son—Patric knows he isn't his.'Tell him if you dare.' she said icily. if I tell him that will put an end to your little scheme to marry well. 'If you make it worth my while not to. Especially as I know you'd hate it. 'I can get all the money I need from Patric—he has this stupid sense of family honour.' 'Pay you off?' She didn't try to hide her disgust. 'You must be mad. 'However. I'm not mad. 'And he already knows my son is not his.' He paused. slyness marring his regular features. But money isn't the only way to pay off a man. it would give me great pleasure to watch him acting as father to my son.' Sean was watching her eagerly.' Kate repeated bluntly. I enjoyed our interlude together last time—I'd enjoy taking you to bed even more if you were Patric's wife.' Lip curling. 'I have no money. Just what sacrifices are you prepared to make for your son.

controlled menace icing each word. Sean scrambled to his feet and backed up against the bench. 'I wouldn't sleep—' she said. then cried out. Kate managed to say clearly. His swaggering bravado left him.' Kate forced breath into her aching lungs. pleading.' Very gently he put her aside. Patric. no. 'Get out of here and don't ever come back. dropping the knife and racing forward. blood trickling from a cut lip. and then again. no. Sean swung around.' he said to his cousin. rubbish. a nothing.Kate masked her agony with burning disdain. If I see you within a hundred miles of Kate or the boy I'll have you put in prison for stalking. 'He's not worth it. wiped clean of emotion. no.' as Sean fell backwards across the floor and lay still. Patric said. 'I hope you enjoy bringing up my son. Fighting down her despair. . Patric. Patric. He's trash.' Sean waited until he was well out of the door before shouting. In a quiet. for Patric came through the door and she saw murder in his face. He didn't speak. closed for a second the eyes that were stretched too wide. crumpling before the black fury in Patric's eyes. His eyes darted from Patric's implacable face to Kate's and back again. Patric's eyes were polished and fathomless. 'Why didn't you tell me?' Patric asked with deadly composure. 'Get up. 'No!' Kate shouted. With terrifying speed and ferocity Patric hit Sean in the mouth. seeming not to realise that Kate was clinging to his arm. He's not worth it. 'No. conversational tone.

so I thought Nick was safe. Of course I thought he was mine. Numbly Kate turned the tap on over the sink and handed him a paper towel. and for some reason it was—it was worse that it was Sean. yes.' Her voice sounded thin. You said..you said you never saw Sean. and when he said nothing she went on without hope. I'm so sorry. You didn't put the name of his father. 'The day I met you again I rang New Zealand and got someone to check his birth certificate. remote. knowing he wouldn't believe her. She waited. but you called him Nicholas Patrick. 'At first. In an exhausted voice she said. but she hadn't trusted him enough. dead rapist. 'Was he right? Did you think I was lying— that Nick is yours?' He met her pleading glance with unreadable self. but I didn't know how you'd react. 'I did try.. I should have insisted on telling you then. and not some anonymous. I'm not making sense.' 'What did you hope? That you'd never have to tell me?' She searched his face. Kate asked. I was a coward. she finished.' Patric looked down at his bruised knuckles.' .. I knew I'd have to tell you. And he reminded me so much of the way I was as a kid—as "Black" Pat used to be—his almost obsessive interests.' And. stained with the blood from Sean's split lip. and I hoped.' She hadn't known it then. 'Yes. 'It made it personal.. am I? But that's how I felt.possession. she added. but saw nothing there to give her confidence.' he said. When he'd washed his hands and wiped the water from them he flexed the long fingers. Lamely. 'When you asked me to many you. I knew you despised him. but when you said you didn't want to know I was relieved and glad. even the way he tilted his head. Patric.'At first I couldn't bear to.

. she said. each jagged shard cutting her into shreds. 'Why would I have made up a story about being raped?' 'To punish me for marrying Laura. 'And you didn't seem very upset when you told me about being raped. he smashed his maltreated hand onto the bench. 'No! How could you? I made sure you didn't! I tried so hard to seem normal—and you were under such pressure yourself. Patric.' Still speaking with that rigid. She exclaimed. She shouted..' To her horror she saw that his eyes were wet. 'I called him after you because I wanted to give him something of you. The only way I could say the words was to cut myself off from any emotion. it never occurred to me that. I should have seen that there was something fundamentally wrong with you at that last meeting in May when you told me you didn't love me any more! I was so lost in my own problems. 'It was all I had. dispassionate composure.' He swore—raw words delivered in a flat monotone— and then fell silent.Her heart broke. Kate's breath hissed through her lips as he said evenly. you're the first person I've ever told. 'I should have known—God. She'd lied. he went on. 'I never know what you're thinking.' . her voice barely under control. but so had he—he had pursued her because he wanted the boy he'd thought was his son. Kate felt it quite clearly. didn't touch her. In fact you were very calm.' Suddenly. Even when he spoke again he made no movement towards her. don't blame yourself. eating up the adrenalin. 'Apart from a therapist.' Anger splintered through her. the agonising pain as her hopes shattered. But it was a lie. shuddered at the sudden rending.' she whispered shakily. all I could do for him.' White-lipped. how you feel.

another descendant of "Black" Pat.' Patric continued almost soundlessly. Your father was dying. And I knew that I had to go very gently with you. 'But I didn't know the rapist was my cousin. so I still believed Nick was mine. but she owed him an explanation. 'When did you realise that I'd told you the truth in Surfers' Paradise—that Nick isn't your son?' 'I realised you had been raped when I drove you up to the Bay of Islands for dinner.' She remembered then—that glimpse of his face in the headlights. 'There's a photograph of "Black" Pat taken when he was five in an old album— they could be twins. dimmed her vision.He said savagely. I thought that some miracle had made Nick mine. demeaned. I was sure you'd never accept his child. no fit woman fbr you.' Pain squeezed Kate's heart. She wanted him to go before she abandoned herself to grief at the destruction of all those shining golden hopes. I knew you despised him and—I felt dirty. if I'd told you you'd have confronted Sean. 'Why didn't you tell me when we met that last time at Tatamoa? Surely you didn't think I'd discard you because Sean raped you?' Past weariness. 'I felt murderous—and ashamed. 'I'll blame myself until the day I die. Kate leaned back against the counter.' Some emotion broke through the bronze mask of his face. and it would have . You said so simply that you couldn't marry me when you were carrying another man's child. that you might still distrust men— that you might never be able to want me as I wanted you. the way he'd forgotten to dip the car lights. 'I went into a deep depression and I wasn't thinking at all straight.' Her fury collapsed into dread.' He spoke without inflection. 'I was bitterly glad that the man who'd done that to you was dead.

' His mouth twisted. emptied out of emotion. his expression bleak. but I wanted to get away. but "Black" Pat was an unregenerate chauvinist and so was my father. Sean hated Patric because he was everything Sean was not. to be free of everything that had happened. 'Is that why you didn't tell me?' She flushed at the incredulity in his tone. and probably he's right. I'd like to kill him. How can you forgive me for such blindness?' Tensely. 'Partly.' she said quietly.' Patric said quietly. because he hated me. 'He raped you because you were mine. 'There's no question of forgiving you.' 'I'm not a murderer. Sean's sins are his. . He went around with a smirk for months. of blaming you. urgently she said. I can imagine how hideous those months must have been for you.' 'I know. In the end it was all too much. Anyway.' 'I was afraid of that. her anger dying and leaving her hollow. 'You're infinitely more forgiving than I am. 'Sean feels that because Aunt Barbara was older than my father she should have inherited half of Sutherland Aviation. not yours. 'but you—I didn't know how you'd react! Why does he hate you so much?' He looked past her.' she said quickly. and I didn't realise—it barely bloody registered! And I still didn't realise when you told me about it.' There was more to it than that. Kate. I loved you. Instead of a share in the business she got a trust fund which her husband persuaded her to waste on speculations that invariably came to nothing. Kate thought.ripped your family apart.

the dark eyes turbulent and angry. If Sean tries to contact you again. she said. Pain ached through her heart. please go.' he said between his teeth. Patric said. You'll never see him again. throbbed in her head. ring me there. clogged the back of her throat. 'I put up with Sean for years. 'If you need me. I'm at the hotel. ring me. he'd courted her to claim the boy he'd believed to be his son. I need to be alone to do that. If only she hadn't succumbed to the temptation to give her son Patrick for a second . Kate— you only have to call and I'll come. 'Patric.Still in that distant. 'Kate.' 'All right. 'I have things I need to face too.' It wasn't until Nick had gone to bed that Kate was able to sit down and face what had happened. In a hard voice he finished. I think you'd better go now. 'You are not abandoning me. Patric. you didn't abandon me all those yearj ago. He had betrayed her as she had betrayed him. deadly voice. I can't leave you now.' she said wearily. I'll come. 'I can't abandon —' Something snapped inside her. Summoning every atom of strength and determination she possessed.' He looked at her. I'm now a grown woman.' 'Kate—' She couldn't bear to listen. and at the moment I need to learn to cope with the fact that you deliberately pursued me to get your hands on a child you believed to be yours.' Exhausted. but when he tried to blackmail his mother into handing over money from the new trust fund I'd set up for her it was too much. but I'll be back.' he said urgently. Kate said. 'But he's still Nick's father— nothing can alter that.

You can do it again.' Lying. pleating a corner of the throw with shaking fingers while her thoughts whirled in jumbled. Stiffly she rose to pick it up and spat.' Numb with horror. 'You come anywhere near him and I'll be at the police station tomorrow morning accusing you of rape. DNA testing would be the only way anyone would be able to tell for certain who Nick's father was. but the possibility that it might be Patric galvanised her to her feet. 'that I'm applying to the courts tomorrow for access to the brat. and he'd have left them alone. she added. If he persisted she'd deny everything. Was there -any hope for them? Don't give in. corrupt hands on Nick. terrified fragments around her head. however. But this was something more than pain—this was the defilement of her hopes and illusions. her movements stilled. You've dealt with pain before and survived. 'No!' she exclaimed to a silent room. Sean would never get his greedy.name she'd probably have convinced Patric right at the start that she'd been raped. Kate slammed the receiver down and crept back to the sofa.' came Sean's hateful. I told her at the time.' . 'My aunt will give evidence. Sean. a keen agony she'd never escape even though the years might smooth over the raw edges of the scar. Eventually. gloating voice. I think it's time I got to know my son—taught him a few things. 'I thought you might like to know. Never. When the telephone rang she was tempted to ignore it. Abruptly she sat up and straightened her shoulders. she thought grimly. I mean it. And if Sean suggested that she'd make plans to run— The telephone burst into her plotting.

except for a feral danger in his eyes she'd not seen before. because you're the only reason I breathe. You see. 'He knows me well.' Kate said. 'I didn't realise it.' he said roughly.' In a cracked. 'He's trying to bluff you.' he said. I never lost hope that one day I'd find you again. 'You must know how I feel about you. If it was I've been punished. then shook his head. Don't he now. 'No. furious voice. huddling into the throw rug. because you haven't said it. I've always loved you. He'll demand financial support in return for not going ahead with it. Word for word she repeated Sean's threat. He looked just the same.' he said. I was sure Nick was mine. ironic smile. He's blackmailing me. it's me. 'But how can he believe you'd give in?' He gave her a hard. Yes. At least you didn't lie before. unsteady voice she said. please don't. In fact I knew I would. 'I'll be up straight away.' After a second's hesitation.' he commanded as soon as he got there. 'but it's not enough. Perhaps it was a petty revenge for not marrying me all those years ago. and at first I thought I was cold-bloodedly pursuing you for my son.' Patric arrived within ten minutes. he said quietly. 'He knows that I'd do anything in the world for you. Kate.' Kate plopped down on the sofa.' 'I know I can make you want me. 'Patric. but I wanted you to admit that you loved me before I told you how much I love you. I hope not.There was a second of silence before Patric said in a low. Colour burned through her skin. 'Tell me exactly what he said. but it only .

I can never right the wrong that Sean did to you and I'll carry that guilt all my life. forced to endure such degradation. of course. 'And because I made him look a fool when he tried to kiss me. intense. but I love his son. and I never will. I hit him in the solar plexus. Remember.' 'I can deal with him.' She said succinctly. smoothing away its tension. strong-minded little boy. I left you this afternoon because I needed to be absolutely sure that I could still love Nick knowing he's Sean's. Transfixed by the stripped. nonnegotiable—in his tone. You were raped. because I know you won't marry me without being convinced I'd make him happy. the truth was stark. 'Patric. for a whole variety of reasons: because he's yours. a son any man would be proud of.took a few days for me to realise that nothing had changed. I didn't care whether you were lying or not—it didn't matter. in the autocratic features clenched in intolerable emotion. Kate. his eyes held hers as he said. I've never stopped loving you. but most of all for what he is—a charming. lovable. I love you so much I can't bear to think of exposing you to Sean's malice. because I loved you.' His tone sent shivers the length of her spine. He hated that. interesting. in the dark. and to any .' It was impossible not to believe him. Dark. uncompromising eyes. He walked across the room and took her hand carefully.' A bubble of emotion stopped her breath. I'll be a good father to him. 'I'm finding it very difficult to deal with the knowledge that Sean abused you because you were my lover.' 'It was my love that brought you horror and pain and years of loneliness. Kate whispered. aching need she saw there. 'I am sure.

■ kissing the top of her head.' Over the huge lump in her throat.' . And I swear I'll try to be the best husband for you. then said quietly. he sat with her on the sofa. 'Your mother's not going to be happy about us. 'You're certainly not the wife she'd choose for me. You mustn't blame yourself for Sean's actions. not necessarily in that order. narrowed eyes. my darling. I meant what I said before.' 'You're too generous. 'Oh.' He tipped her head and looked at her with gleaming. She wants grandchildren and to see me happily married. he laughed with a note of genuine amusement. 'I love you.' After a moment's startled silence. 'Patric.' His answer was blunt. His smile was fender and triumphant and relieved. agonise. 'Perhaps you should never go anywhere near a woman in case your wicked cousin rapes her.' he said.' She hesitated. as though he hadn't been sure. well. she's learned her lesson. Lifting her. Kate drew a deep breath and turned her face against his chest. Cradled in the strong haven of his arms. she whispered.other children we have. because nobody but Sean is responsible for them. Don't ever forget that. 'You're good for me.' It was surrender and he knew it.' she retorted. 'And you are good for me. then. 'Being married to you will make me happy. Patric. but believe me.' His revulsion and remorse could be a problem.

Kate. After I left you this afternoon I rang a friend of my father's to find out how it works.' It was said with such icy dispassion that she shivered. scorching kiss on her mouth. I have several other documents he won't want published. and his arms tightened around her in a brief. 'Sex is nothing when it's stolen and forced. and apparently there could be enough similarity between Sean's test and mine to confuse the issue. at last. 'I trust you.' 'You won't have to. If he shows his face in New Zealand again I'll crush him.' Dreamily. Also. Kate thought she'd remember that precious moment all her life.'We'll keep each other happy.' Kate said. but it would be giving him too much power to let him succeed. It will be awful. 'Yes. determined to enlist his mother's support and learn how to be the very best wife she could be for Patric. and I know your aunt will hate me for it. I think you do. meeting . 'Does he frighten you?' 'No. He dropped a swift. He said. 'We'll get married in three days' time. 'I'll accuse him of rape. and said.' she said contemptuously. Actually.' she said. We'll make it. So if Sean does press for access we can wave the results around the courtroom. they'd ensure that no judge would grant access. He wanted to humiliate and shame us both. Instantly he demanded. fierce hug. And we'll get DNAtested. 'Trust me.' he said. but I'll do it.' 'If he makes any move at all.' His unsparing eyes searched her face. shocked by the vindictiveness in her voice.' 'I do trust you. too.

I realised what a contemptible thing he is. and you've made a very good start on that. what he planned to do. Although she'd been much shyer then.' Patric said with lethal menace. telling her how beautiful she was to him. I don't ever want him to know that Sean is his father.' he said.' he grumbled as they lay heart to heart. This had nothing of the edged urgency of their last coming together.' He lifted her chin and looked at her. and when at last they lay together in bed she thought that this was how it had been the first time—profoundly. Our best revenge will be bringing up a son who is happy and successful and honest. Kate did the same for him. 'may I stay the night with you. 'I can control Sean. nodding. my darling? I need to hold you and make sure you're safe.' . and Patric hadn't complained about the bed! 'Just as well I've got a decent-sized one at home. she got up with him and went into the bedroom.him again helped me. how he ached for her. 'We won't live in the apartment—I want to buy you a house by the sea. her face pressed itito ^ his neck. his hard face at last open to her. heart-stoppingly tender.' Her eyes filled. But I do worry about Nick. how he hoped she'd feel. Between us we can make sure that Nick is nothing like the man who fathered him. Patric undressed her slowly and sensuously. 'So now. her body singing with anticipation.' 'We'll make sure he never does. not worrying in the least that it was furnished with castoffs.

' Kate lifted her head. I love you and I want to make love with you. 'was it the first time since—since you conceived Nick?' At her nod he went on. was blooming like a garden in spring. I'm not made of cotton wool. exquisite fulfilment. 'Why?' she asked. Her whole world. lips tingling at the raw silken texture of his skin.Kate laughed silently. but it has nothing to do with us. 'God. 'You don't need to make love if you don't want to. but she trusted Patric to deal with his cousin. He kissed the vulnerable spot where her hair met her temple. And what started with restraint ended in wildfire intensity. I love you. although his chest lifted suddenly at her caress. 'I meant it when I told you it would be enough to hold you.' Patric said. 'I tried to be gentle. 'It was wonderful because it was you. but I made no concessions. 'Neither did I.' he said curtly. and kissed her. kissing along his jaw. Patric.' she said stoutly. *The other night.' His arms tightened. pressing her back into the pillow. What happened with Sean was horrible. and ran a questing hand down the indentation of his spine and across to his hip. A garden with a snake. she thought exultantly. .' Her heart started to jump. in untamed.' he said.

emerging from his bedroom.' Nick said cheerfully. she turned to kiss him. resting her head a moment on Patric's broad chest before pulling away. the same room Kate and he had shared the night they'd come back from Australia— only four months ago! 'When I grow up and get married will I have to kiss the lady all the time like you do?' 'Almost certainly. 'What about you?' __ 'We can view it tomorrow morning at ten. He had decided to change the sleek racing craft he already owned for something more suited to cruising holidays with a family.' But Patric sounded non-committal. 'Why do you do that all the time?' Nick asked teasingly. 'Are we interested?' 'I am. IT'S SO hot!' Kate took off her hat and exhaled heavily. 'It is summer. It has a jetty and a mooring.' Kate said.' he said. . 'but you'll find it feels good. 'Did you find us a house.' Patric said. Will that be all right?' 'Very.' She smiled at Patric. smoothing Kate's thick hair back from her face. Mummy?' 'I might have. He returned it with interest and enthusiasm. "The agent said she has a glorious place overlooking a tiny private beach on the North Shore.EPILOGUE 'OH.' 'I don't think so.' Patric said from behind her. Laughing.

thank God. holding it to his mouth as he said. 'Oh.' Kate's mouth dropped open. he'd reverted back to the poker. He would tell her when he was ready. She said it can happen like that—you get what appears to be a lighter period. But it was a proper period. Although she was getting better at reading his face. 'I had a period. She reached for Patric's hand.' . She whispered. I think it was. Patric's hand twisted. Kate. I had a period—a proper one. I used to pretend—and now it's true.' Dread suddenly vanished from the hidden reaches of Kate's heart. 'Brian consulted a gynaecologist.' Kate looked up sharply. Yes.' she said numbly.' He lifted her hand and kissed it. 'Between when we made love and—and Sean. It had happened. but she had a confidence now that she hadn't had then.. Tension plucked at her nerves. Nick is my son.Kate gave him a keen glance. Thank God. clasped hers. He waited until after Nick had gone to bed. now he had to say goodbye to the last particle of hope that Nick might not be Sean's son. 'It's a perfect match. Then he sat down beside her on the big sofa in the sitting room and said. 'Brian Pierce rang me today.' Very gently he said. Nick can't be yours.faced man who'd wooed her and caught her in the silken nets of love. 'Was it lighter than normal?' 'I—yes. but it's really the fertilised ovum embedding itself.. Brian Pierce was the specialist who'd conducted the DNA testing.

' he said huskily.' 'Yes.' 'Sweet Kate.' Kate bowed her head into her hands. my dearest girl.' 'And I didn't tell you that Sean was Nick's father. 'Of course I'm delighted.' she said. When she'd choked back the last sobs he tipped her chin. a kiss that closed the door on the past and opened one into a future more filled with joy and happiness than Kate had ever hoped for. I lied. looking into her face.' she said.'Darling Kate. 'And for me.' She pulled his head down and they kissed.' He gathered her into his arms. 'I don't deserve you. We had to wait a long time. It doesn't matter. 'You don't deserve someone who thought you'd lied about being raped?' He spoke with raw self-contempt. 'We'll make those lies up to each other. 'It wouldn't have mattered. but it's been worth it for me. hugging his hand to her breast. 'It was all worth it. holding her close while the storm of weeping shook her. That future stretched out . 'Who cold-bloodedly set out to woo you so that I could get my son? I even organised the upgrade to first class on the way back from Australia so that my son would be more comfortable.' His voice was deep and sure. but Kate. because this means that Sean hasn't any sort of claim. rich with love. lifting her head.' His expression lightened.' he said. 'You know it doesn't matter now. Patric. 'my treasure. I told you I'd never allow him to shadow Nick's life. Kate.' she said shakily. let's leave it behind us now. so decisively that she blinked. you and I. don't cry. I lied about the man who stole the car.

in front of them. wide path. . All they had to do was step out onto it without looking back. And it was suddenly so simple to do. a shining.

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